The importance of terrestrial wireless communications

Wireless devices are notably visible and extremely present in our everyday lives. Smartphones and tablets with embedded Wi-Fi accompany people almost everywhere. We listen to the radio in our cars, watch free-to-air television programmes at home, travel safely in cities and around the globe, staying connected, thanks to terrestrial wireless communication systems.

Consumer demand for wireless services has increased exponentially in recent years, leading to an explosive growth of networks and devices and bringing great benefits for economies. According to ITU, active mobile broadband subscriptions reached 4.69 billion in 2017. In 2018, according to GSMA, the mobile industry made a total contribution of USD 3.9 trillion of economic value, equivalent to 4.6 per cent of global GDP. The Internet of Things (IoT) market is also growing very fast, with currently around 7 billion devices, according to data from IoT Analytics.

Wireless devices are notably visible and extremely present in our everyday lives.To adequately satisfy consumer demand, terrestrial radio technologies have evolved considerably over the past few decades, and new applications have emerged. They include advanced mobile broadband, intelligent transport systems and IoT devices. Frequencies and regulations for these technologies are on the agenda of the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-19) to be held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November 2019.


The amateur radio service was born more than 100 years ago and continues to be very valuable, bringing young people into a fascinating world of radio. A great variety of modern radio technologies have been developed and tested by radio amateurs. Today, the number of radio amateurs reaches 3 million, and national amateur radio societies operate in 167 countries, according to IARU. At WRC-19 the amateur community targets worldwide harmonization of the 50–54 MHz band to ensure reliable, middle-range communications everywhere in the world.


One of the most challenging WRC-19 issues is the spectrum and regulations for the next generation of International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT-2020 or 5G) in the millimeter bands. These bands above 24 GHz, having a huge capacity, are needed to enable superfast data rates and empower new services such as 3D video, augmented, virtual reality and others.

5G represents an evolution of IMT-Advanced/4G systems. These 4G systems have opened a new era for mobile Internet, serve a basis of many apps-based businesses, used for such services as m-Learning, m-Health, mobile money. They have become a powerful and reliable platform for broadband services — especially in developing countries — for bridging the digital divide.

IMT-2020/5G is also seen as the first mobile platform that supports not only mobile broadband, but a variety of applications, such as massive machine-type communications, autonomous cars, public safety, etc. Its characteristics could meet the communication requirements of transport, manufacturing, the health sector and other industries.

ITU News ITU’s contribution to 5G includes harmonized frequency bands and IMT-2020 standards to allow for a commercial IMT-2020/5G deployment starting from 2020.


Wi-Fi or Radio Local Area Networks (RLANs) in ITU terminology has been widely used for Internet connectivity and data delivery. Wi-Fi has also been used for offloading mobile traffic, thus reducing the amount of data carried on cellular networks. The traditional 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands used for RLANs are heavily used and growing consumer demand requires additional capacity. WRC-19 will consider the additional spectrum needs of RLANs in their traditional 5 GHz band. This represents a challenging task due to the need for protection of several existing services.


High-altitude platform systems (HAPS) is another technology that can be used to provide broadband, directly to end users or as backhaul for stations of the mobile service. These applications would potentially enable wireless broadband in remote and rural areas. In some situations, they may be also rapidly deployed for disaster-recovery communications. Previous WRCs have already identified frequencies in the fixed service in the 6 GHz, 27/31 GHz and 47/48 GHz bands that can be used for HAPS.

However, the spectrum requirements of new broadband HAPS may not be fully accommodated within these current designations. Therefore, additional spectrum is being considered for HAPS systems in the millimetre bands above 21.4 GHz.


Wireless technologies are changing the shape of road transport, making cars smarter, driving more convenient, and roads safer. Radiocommunications serve various aspects of transportation networks, such as vehicle navigation, traffic control, road signs and automatic licence plate recognition, etc. forming what are now referred to as Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS). A variety of technologies can contribute to ITS, including cellular networks, wireless access systems, sensors and radars. WRC-19 will consider spectrum harmonization for ITS in different frequency bands, and particularly in the 5.8 GHz band.

Railway transportation is also an important user of radio technologies. WRC-19 will consider Railway Radiocommunication Systems between Train and Trackside (RSTT). They include wireless technologies used on-board trains, positioning information, train remote control and surveillance. WRC-19 will determine ways of harmonizing frequency bands for these applications to improve their interoperability and reduce investments.


Finally, I would like to emphasize the important goals of the Union at WRCs: harmonization of frequency bands for wireless technologies, allocation of bands of the radio-frequency spectrum in order to avoid harmful interference between radio stations of different countries (No. 11 of the ITU Constitution), and limiting the number of frequencies and the spectrum used to the minimum essential to provide the necessary services in a satisfactory manner (No. 195 of the ITU Constitution).

The importance of these objectives grows from one WRC to the next and covers an increasing number of applications. For IMT and HAPS, intelligent transport and railway applications, amateur and RLAN harmonization, coexistence and spectral efficiency are crucial. They facilitate the deployment of regional and global networks, enable economies of scale, and make radio equipment and devices more affordable for all countries. Therefore, I expect the terms allocation, identification and harmonization to be the key words of the upcoming WRC-19.

*Mario Maniewicz - Director of the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau

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