While the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) rule-making summit typically involves geopolitics, this year’s summit is expected to be particularly contentious. The upcoming World Radiocommunication Conference 2023 (WRC-23) will likely be marked by disagreements over the conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine, as well as discussions on global spectrum management that could impact national security and economic interests.
For the United States, key national security concerns going into the conference include protecting Defense Department radars and ensuring the use of spectrum for future military and Intelligence Community missions. Additionally, the US is wary of China, Russia, and Iran challenging its technological edge, particularly in the realm of low Earth orbit (LEO) mega-constellations like SpaceX’s Starlink.
The ITU, a treaty-based organization, manages spectrum usage across borders to prevent interference and ensure equal access for all nations. However, each member country has the right to regulate radio frequency (RF) spectrum use within its borders, as is the case with the US and its Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The National Telecommunications Information Administration, part of the Commerce Department, coordinates spectrum use by federal agencies, including the Defense Department.
The US delegation for WRC-23 is led by Stephen Lang, State Department deputy assistant secretary for international information and communications policy, and includes representatives from various government agencies. The delegation also includes representatives from US telecom companies and legal experts.
The United States’ top priorities for the conference include expanding connectivity, harmonizing bands for 5G, creating a pipeline for 6G, and preserving spectrum for unlicensed uses like WiFi. The US seeks to enable the deployment of low Earth orbit satellite systems for internet service, while also safeguarding geostationary satellite services and exploring future frequency bands for cislunar communications.
Geopolitical tensions are expected to cast a shadow over the conference. The issue of Israel’s status and the recognition of Palestine as a country will likely be contentious, exacerbated by the recent conflict in Gaza. Russia’s desire to lead future WRC study groups may also face opposition due to Western objections to its war with Ukraine. The battle between the US and China over the 5G and future 6G markets remains an underlying bilateral conflict.
From a military operations perspective, the US is concerned about potential interference or lack of access to spectrum for radar, terrestrial sensors, and satellite communications. Efforts to reallocate mid-band spectrum for commercial wireless communications could impact military operations. The US is particularly opposed to repurposing the 10 GHz band in ITU Region 2, which is crucial for synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites used for Earth imaging.
In conclusion, the ITU summit is expected to be highly charged, with nations navigating geopolitical challenges while addressing spectrum management issues. The US aims to protect its national security interests while promoting connectivity and innovation in the telecommunications sector.