World Radiocommunication Conference 2003 gets under way

Global co-ordination of frequency bands for wireless Lans, spectrum for the European Union-backed Galileo satellite navigation...

Global co-ordination of frequency bands for wireless Lans, spectrum for the European Union-backed Galileo satellite navigation system and global frequency allocations for a broadband internet service for airline passengers top the agenda at the World Radiocommunication Conference 2003 (WRC-03) in Geneva.

The event, held by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), allocates and manages the radio spectrum globally for a variety of wireless uses, products and technology. It involves representation from more than 180 nations.

The ITU, a United Nations agency, said in a background paper that the nations participating in WRC-03, which ends 4 July, will work to ensure "fair and efficient use" of global spectrum resources needed for emerging technologies such as WLans while protecting older services that use the same frequency bands.

The ITU said proposals for frequency allocations for WLans are expected to generate considerable discussion at the conference as delegates work to accommodate "new allocations into an already tightly packed frequency table" in the 5150-to-5725-MHz band, which is also used by radar, aircraft navigation systems and earth-sensing satellites.

In the view of the 172-member US delegation to WRC-03, led by Ambassador Janice Obuchowski, the WRC-03 agenda "touches on nearly every spectrum-dependent service and application that will drive the technological developments of the 21st century", according to spokesman John Alden.

The spectrum for WLans systems - an industry that is expected to generate $5.2bn (£3.1bn) in hardware sales by 2005, according to the US Federal Communications Commission - tops the WRC-03 agenda for the US delegation.

However, Michael Green, manager of global product compliance at WLan chip manufacturer Atheros Communications, claimed global co-ordination of the WLan spectrum is as important as allocating frequencies.

Existing WLans in the US which operate under the 802.11a protocol use frequencies in the 5150-to-5350- and 5725-to-5825-MHz bands. But not all countries use those bands, Green said.

The EU and the US have different rules for the 5250-to-5350-MHz slice, with the EU restricting it to indoor use and the US allowing both indoor and outdoor use.

The EU already allows WLans in the 5470-to-5725-MHz band, while the FCC recently launched an administrative procedure aimed at permitting WLans in those bands, Green said.

The FCC said it planned to add WLan service in those bands "consistent with US proposals to WRC-03".

Dennis Eaton, chairman of the Wi-Fi Alliance, said WRC-03 approval of a global standard for WLan spectrum use would reduce confusion for wireless users who cross borders because there would be standard frequencies in the 5-GHz band in any country. That could lead to lower manufacturing costs, lower-priced products and global economies of scale.

Allocation of frequencies for the EU-backed Galileo satellite navigation system in the 1164-to-1214-, the 1260-to-1300- and the 1560-to-1595-MHz bands, as well as rules for power output from global positioning system (GPS) satellites the US plans to launch, could emerge as another contentious issue.

In its background paper, the ITU said that although the Galileo system got a green light at the WRC event three years ago, "a number of follow-up items remain that could again turn up the heat".

This includes a new generation of higher-powered GPS satellites that the US plans to launch to defeat enemy jamming.

While Alden said the US believed that it has resolved these issues, the International Civil Organization, another UN agency, said in its WRC-03 position paper that it wanted power limits on all satellite navigation systems to protect existing terrestrial navigation systems using the same bands.

Another key item for the US delegation is gaining a frequency allocation in the 14-to-14.5-GHz band for the Connexion by Boeing satellite-based broadband internet service for airline passengers.

Terrance Scott, a spokesman for Boeing, said the satellite broadband service, which Lufthansa launched last month, now operates under an experimental licence.

If WRC-03 approves the allocation, Boeing and its customers would have a global frequency for the service, he said.

Boeing expected the frequency allocation to be approved.

Patirck Thibodeau writes for Computerworld

Read more on IT strategy