World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) negotiations are notorious for being complex, but this year’s inter-governmental event has exceeded expectations by remaining incomplete as of the penultimate morning.
According to conference protocol, agenda items should be complete before the penultimate day. This day is then reserved for the translation of documents and registration of national reservations and counter-reservations, while the final day is meant to be primarily ceremonial.
It was hoped that several agenda items this year would be resolved through the formation of ad hoc and informal groups to thrash out solutions. But these groups still had not completed their work by the afternoon of the third last day. In response to this, WRC-15 chair Festus Daudu instructed the groups to submit written reports by 7pm. The idea was that these reports could then be waved through in a plenary session.
But many of the delicate compromises and package deals put together in these groups quickly unravelled and could only be put together through a concerted effort. And while agreement on Agenda Item 1.1 (on mobile broadband) and the UHF band was relatively stable (“no change” globally but IMT footnotes in several Asian and American administrations), decisions on other frequencies in the L-band and C-band were much more unpredictable.
Spectrum for satellite CNPC for UAS (control and non-payload communications of unmanned aircraft systems, Agenda Item 1.5) was only provisionally agreed after lengthy discussion that included amendments to the text. And after more long negotiations, the conference concluded that the only way to deal with Agenda Item 1.6, on FSS (fixed satellite service) spectrum in the Ku bands, was to outsource it to the Radio Regulations Board.
Some of the longest negotiations were reserved for the agenda for future WRCs. These led to a future agenda item on HAPS (High Altitude Platform Stations) being temporarily thrown out, while as an expedient all controversial bands (including anything below 24.25 GHz) were removed from the 5G agenda item on spectrum above 6 GHz.
The plenary ended at 6am, but only due to the terms of the interpreters’ contracts. Three of the documents that plenary failed to consider last night were put to the editorial committee, which allows plenary sessions to revisit them later. The last words of the plenary consisted of a request from the South Korean delegation for its regional group, the Asia-Pacific Telecommunity, to discuss further details on Agenda Item 1.1.
Toby Youell, PolicyTracker