ITU is paying tribute this month to 110 years of international cooperation among its member states on the ITU Radio Regulations, an international treaty for governing the use of the radio-frequency spectrum and satellite orbits for ubiquitous wireless communications. The ITU Radio Regulations ensure interference-free operations of radiocommunication systems and provide all countries with equitable access to the radio spectrum – a scarce natural resource that does not distinguish between national borders and needs to be harmonized globally.
“ITU is proud to proclaim the 110th anniversary of the ITU Radio Regulations as a success story of international cooperation through consensus building among its member states with the inestimable support of telecommunication industry partners,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. “With the growing complexity of our interconnected world and ubiquity of wireless systems, it is now more important than ever to maintain the pace and efficiency of radiocommunication conferences to ensure the timely and responsive evolution of this precious instrument.”
To commemorate the occasion, more than 540 registered participants from 106 countries gathered in Geneva for anniversary celebrations Monday. They were joined by Radiocommunication Sector members, Radiocommunication associates, academic experts, former officials of the Union, present and former members of the Radio Regulations Board (RRB) and ITU-R and former CCIR Study Group Chairmen.
Honoring the past with an eye to the future
Those assembled gathered to honor the legacy and achievement of the ITU Radio Regulations – and to discuss how they can address future challenges and opportunities.
“Digital transformation has become the engine of world economic and social development, and radiocommunications are the vector by which most of this transformation is taking place,” said François Rancy, Director of the Radiocommunication Bureau. “The Radio Regulations are the legal instrument which has permitted radiocommunications to flourish over the last 110 years and make this transformation possible. The global treaty celebrations today are a tribute to those that worked tirelessly to ensure the 110 years of success of this vitally important treaty for wireless communications worldwide.”
As part of the celebrations, twin panel discussions tackled the issues of the ITU Radio Regulations’ impact on the information and communication technology (ICT) industry and the challenges and opportunities facing the future of the ITU Radio Regulations.
Industry partners attending the ceremony’s panel discussions included representatives of GSMA, ESOA, EBU, GSA, BAKOM, OneWeb, Facebook, BBC and the US State Department.
“The fact that the Radio Regulations continue to be relevant to the productive and innovative use of the radio frequency spectrum is no surprise. One need only look at the spectacular growth of wireless services to understand their importance,” said Julie Zoller, Senior Deputy Coordinator and Director; Multilateral Affairs (EB/CIP/MA); International Communication & Information Policy, U.S. Department of State, as she opened the panel on the future of the Radio Regulations. “Many of the basic principles set forth in the Radio Regulations will continue to be relevant and have universal appeal, while others may need to be reexamined.”
The fellow panelists acknowledged that the process of negotiating the Radio Regulations can be challenging, particularly as new technologies and applications challenge current definitions and processes. Yet Cath Westcott, Communications Regulations Specialist at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) pointed out that “many of these challenges have always been there in some form or the other.”
“ITU has supported global harmonization and economies of scale that have helped fuel our wireless world,” said Christopher Weasler, the Director of Global Connectivity at Facebook, adding that ITU could continue to adapt by taking a “fresh approach” to spectrum management. “More spectrum should be used in more ways to enable more services,” he said. Among the proposed principles Mr. Weasler discussed at the panel were supporting spectrum sharing, ensuring allocated spectrum is well utilized across frequency bands, and building more flexibility into regulations.
A storied history
Starting with the signing in Berlin on 3 November 1906 of the first International Radio Telegraph Convention, which brought together 30 maritime states, the Radio Regulations have grown with 110 years of revisions and innovations into the 5-volume treaty of 2000 pages of the 2016 edition. They now cover more than 40 different radiocommunication services and frequencies ranging from 9 kHz to 3000 GHz, with internationally agreed governing principles and regulations on which the rights and obligations of ITU’s 193 Member States to use the spectrum and satellite orbit resources are based. The objective is that these scarce resources be used efficiently and equitably, free of harmful interference.
Since 1906, 38 World Radiocommunication Conferences have revised the ITU Radio Regulations to respond to technological and social development. The 2016 version was adopted by the World Radiocommunication Conference 2015 (WRC‑15). As with previous versions, it was adopted by consensus, which is the guarantee that this treaty as it evolves, will continue to be reflected in national legislations and enforced by national governments.