Space, air-based networks key to reaching unconnected 2.7B people: ITU

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​​Advances in space and satellite technology combined with evolving wireless connectivity are essential to connect people who remain excluded from the digital revolution, according to participants at the recently concluded “Connecting the World from the Skies” forum.

The forum, organized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and Saudi Arabia’s Communications, Space and Technology Commission, brought radiocommunication and space industry experts together to explore new ways to enhance global digital connectivity.

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The three-day forum took place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, from 8 to 10 November.

“Digital networks and technologies continue to empower and enrich the lives of billions of people worldwide,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. “While many parts of the globe are connected, there is still much work to do to bring in the remaining third of the world’s population. Innovative aerial and spaceborne communication networks have the potential to advance our efforts to bridge the digital divide at country and global levels.”

Recognizing the need to reach the 2.7 billion people still unconnected around the world, the public-private forum focused on technological developments and innovative business models for aerial and space-based connectivity. It also highlighted how regulators and governments are working alongside industry to unleash untapped potential in today’s 5G networks, as well as in the journey towards 6G.

“Access to affordable broadband connectivity should be the norm and not a privilege,” said Mohammed Altamimi, Governor of the Communications, Space and Technology Commission. “More than ever, we need to build bridges between industry and public sector, to enhance collaboration and leverage innovative technology to ensure the global digital economy leaves no one behind.”

Policy and industry coordination on air and space networks

“Connecting the World from the Skies” included participants from the public and private sectors, including radiocommunication and space industry innovators, researchers, and policy makers from national regulators and international bodies.

At the high-level opening session, technology ministers discussed the challenges and opportunities of delivering connectivity from the skies with policy and industry leaders. Among the topics covered were the evolution of satellites to provide fixed or mobile connectivity directly to devices, and air-to-ground technology capabilities to bring broadband connectivity to airplanes.

Future space- and air-based technologies may require additional radio-frequency spectrum allocations, along with harmonized standards and dedicated regulatory frameworks. All these elements call for accelerated collaboration across sectors.

Forum participants showcased a variety of technological solutions that can provide connectivity through airborne and space-borne networks.

Build-up to the next World Radiocommunication Conference, WRC-23

Coming just over a year ahead of the next World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-23), the forum emphasized the need to undertake environmental impact studies of new technologies. Participants also highlighted the possible adoption of green standards for information and communication technology to reduce space debris and light pollution.

“This forum raised some of the critical issues that ITU members will consider at the next WRC,” said Mario Maniewicz, Director of the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau. “Reaching the unconnected will require an innovative combination of fixed, terrestrial and satellite networks, not only to provide service continuity but also to strengthen service availability and provide ubiquitous, seamless coverage everywhere.”

WRC-23 will take place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, from 20 November to 15 December 2023.

At the conference in Dubai, ITU Member States will consider provision of additional spectrum for new applications and satellite systems, and establish an international regulatory framework to allow satellite systems to also deliver services to moving earth stations irrespective of whether they operate on ground, air or at sea.