Traction building to add C-band to next World Radiocommunication Conference agenda

Space

WASHINGTON — Spectrum regulators around the world want to see more C-band spectrum purposed for 5G cellular services instead of satellite communications, and could make it a topic of a future World Radiocommunication Conference, regulators said Sept. 25. 

C-band reallocation, though a subject of major debate in the U.S., is not on the agenda for the 2019 World Radiocommunication Conference from Oct. 28 to Nov. 22 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, where regulators will strive for global agreements on how spectrum is used. 

But given that many countries are already introducing 5G services in C-band, momentum is growing for a renewed discussion about allocating more of the spectrum on a global level during the 2023 meeting. 

“We would like to see an agenda item considering the C-band,” Mohammed Alotaibi, general manager of frequency spectrum for Saudi Arabia’s telecom regulator, CITC, said at the 8th Annual Americas Spectrum Management Conference at the National Press Club here. 

C-band is generally considered to stretch from 3.4 to 4.2 gigahertz, encompassing 800 megahertz of spectrum. 

Several Arab nations have already started using about a fourth of the C-band for 5G without an internationally agreed upon designation, Alotaibi said. Those countries are using 200 megahertz between 3.6 and 3.8 gigahertz, he said. 

Alotaibi said the number of countries taking such decisions by themselves is creating a regulatory gap. While too late to add to the agenda for WRC-19, attendees should consider C-band for 5G as a topic for the next conference. 

“We believe that the C-band is a very important medium band for 5G expansion, so let’s add this to the WRC discussion and have this in the WRC-23,” he said. 

WRC conferences take place every three to four years. Transferring C-band from satellite use to cellular was a major topic at the 2007 and 2015 conferences, with the latter designating the lower 200 megahertz (between 3.4 and 3.6 gigahertz) for cellular communications across most of the world. 

For the 2019 conference, satellite companies and regulators say no single issue emerged as a central focus, but that selecting future agenda items for 2023 is among the least predictable topics. 

Geostationary telecommunications satellites have an average design life of 15 years, meaning operators must navigate several WRCs with in-space assets that, at least today, cannot change with the regulations. 

Oscar Leon, executive secretary at CITEL, the Inter-American Telecommunication Commission, said the Americas as a region have put forward a proposal to “review all the bands under 20 gigahertz” at WRC-23. C-band would be part of that review as regulators look for ways to optimize spectrum use, he said.   

Alexander Kühn, deputy head of international affairs and utilization concepts for the German federal network agency, BNetzA, said that Europe as a region is receptive to making C-band reallocation a topic for WRC-23. 

“The facts are positive in that direction, so we will not stop any discussion” of C-band, he said. 

Kühn, who is also chairman of the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations WRC-19 preparatory group, added some caveats, though. 

“What Europe doesn’t want is an open agenda item with a wide range of spectrum which needs to be discussed under [International Mobile Telecommunications],” he said. “From our understanding, we learned the lesson from 2015 where we had numerous bands under consideration and the result was not very promising.”

Europe also doesn’t want to choose between C-band or ultra-high-frequency spectrum as discussion points, he said.

Philip Marnick, group director of spectrum at British telecom regulator Ofcom, didn’t offer an opinion on discussing C-band at WRC-23, but said Sept. 24 that the U.K. has already aggressively opened the band for 5G domestically. 

Marnick said the U.K. Ministry of Defence was using 3.4 to 3.6 gigahertz, but agreed to give it up for 5G. From 3.6 to 3.8 gigahertz, Ofcom elected to stop ensuring protection from signal interference for satellite dishes, he said. And for the remaining C-band spectrum from 3.8 to 4.2 gigahertz, Ofcom is allowing local licenses for low- and medium-power 5G devices so they can co-exist with satellite signals. 

“That in fact gives us then — across the entire band from 3.4 to 4.2 — the ability to have new 5G mobile-type applications and services or fixed wireless applications and services,” he said. 

Marnick noted that many countries are congregating around the same areas of spectrum, but he stopped short of advocating for any one approach. 

“The message we want to get to people is: make sure the ecosystem is developed that enables these things to be used wherever they are, [which enables] all of us to collaborate to get the right solutions in our countries to enable the spectrum to be used,” he said. 

Satellite operators will likely fight attempts to take away more C-band, though many have acknowledged the pressure is increasing. 

“We can’t emphasize enough that many parts of the world have already auctioned the spectrum off,” Veena Rawat, senior spectrum adviser for the GSM Association, whose members are mostly cellular network operators, said Sept. 24. “The ecosystem is building.”

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