The United States leads the world in technological innovation, and U.S. participation at this year’s World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 (WRC-19) will have a real impact on our ability to continue doing so. Our goal for WRC-19 is to ensure both continued U.S. leadership and that the global community reaps the benefits of increased digital connectivity. For many years, the United States has shown how flexibility, adaptability, and creativity can breed innovation and economic growth – a big reason why the United States is the global leader in many existing industries, from telecommunications to medical research and development, and why the United States has burst out of the gate to an early lead in the industries of the future including 5G, space commerce, additive manufacturing, quantum information services, and artificial intelligence.
From October 28 to November 22, delegations from approximately 160 International Telecommunication Union (ITU) member states are meeting in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, to revise the global, treaty-level Radio Regulations, which allocate and govern how radio frequencies and satellite orbital slots are used internationally. The Radio Regulations are essential for the coordination of radio frequency use globally, thereby helping to avoid harmful interference between competing uses that could make the airwaves unusable for anyone.
Decisions made at WRC-19 will give spectrum-based industries the freedom and regulatory certainty they need to continue flourishing, expanding, and innovating. This is hugely important for driving economic growth here in the United States and throughout the world. The high-tech mobile devices and applications that have defined this generation were all enabled by the painstaking negotiations of previous WRCs, going back to the 1990s and 2000s. The range of spectrum-based industries is already broad, encompassing mobile broadband, aviation, ground navigation, first responders, space commerce, and media. In a few short years most manufacturing, services, agriculture, energy extraction, and knowledge management will come to rely on data, predictive analytics, and Internet of Things (IoT) monitoring to remain competitive.
One of the biggest tasks for WRC-19 is to identify additional spectrum suitable for 5G. Securing 5G spectrum in the millimeter wave bands is the top U.S. priority at the Conference. Global harmonization of this part of the spectrum will enable economies of scale, lowering deployment costs for providers and device costs for consumers. The United States, along with regional partners in the Americas, are championing an approach to 5G that will promote global harmonization and flexibility to deploy 5G in this range of spectrum. This approach is consistent with U.S. leadership in spectrum policy: we consistently work to find new ways to more efficiently use and share spectrum and create opportunities for innovative new technologies. We do this while also ensuring necessary protections for other services that may occupy the same spectrum.
But 5G is not the only game in town. The agenda for WRC-19 offers the promise of connectivity in many different forms – from earth stations in motion (ESIM) and high-altitude platform systems (HAPS) to non-geostationary orbit (NGSO) mega-constellation satellite systems, as well as enhanced Wi-Fi connectivity. All of these services and applications require updates to the Radio Regulations to launch and bring their innovative products to the four billion people who still lack connectivity, and are potential tools to support broadband connectivity in rural and remote areas, a priority for the United States.
Beyond connectivity, WRC-19 will also consider spectrum allocations for the safety of life services to improve maritime and aeronautical safety systems. Discussions regarding the future WRC-23 and WRC-27 agenda will consider proposals for ITU studies aimed at opportunities for future uses of the radio spectrum. The United States seeks to enable innovative new services and systems as well as more efficient uses of spectrum; however, we also must consider critical commercial and government systems and provide appropriate protections for incumbent services.
Throughout the four years of work leading up to WRC-19, the U.S. delegation exemplified the highest level of collaboration between technical and policy experts drawn from both high-tech industries and government. The U.S. proposals at WRC-19 represent the result of this collaboration and reflect our goal of promoting innovation and global connectivity through a flexible approach to spectrum management. As head of the U.S. delegation, it has been my great privilege to meet with so many of my counterparts throughout the world and learn more about their own spectrum management and connectivity priorities. I believe we share many of the same goals. I am optimistic that, in Egypt, we will be able to collaborate at the global level to set the stage for 5G development and accelerate the technological innovations that have come to mean so much for digital connectivity and economic growth.
About the Author: Ambassador Grace Koh serves as the U.S. Representative and Head of Delegation to the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-19). Ambassador Koh has a distinguished career in public service and the law and previously served as the President’s Special Assistant for tech, telecom, and cybersecurity issues.