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2023 News Releases




The long and winding road to WRC-23

Date : 17 / 12 / 2023
Author : Dale Hughes VK1DSH and Peter Pokorny VK2EMR

It was a dark and stormy night… no, wait, that’s a different story! Actually, it did all start on a dark night, around 3 AM, in Sharm El-Sheikh (Egypt) in late 2019 where the final wording of Resolution 774 (WRC-19) was decided. It got stormy after that.


On that dark night, among the several WRC-23 agenda items I was concerned about, was what became WRC-23 agenda item 9.1b which covered the 1240 – 1300 MHz frequency band where the amateur and amateur-satellite services have a long-standing secondary allocation shared with various primary services, notably the radionavigation-satellite service (space-to-Earth) (RNSS). In Europe there had been several reported cases of interference to a Galileo RNSS receiver from an amateur television repeater and this led to WRC-23 agenda item 9.1b which consumed the next four years of my life and some of Peter’s. The story follows…

Resolution 774 (WRC-19) is the basis of agenda item 9.1b and the operative part of the Resolution states:

“resolves to invite the ITU Radiocommunication Sector

 to perform a detailed review of the different systems and applications used in the amateur service and amateur-satellite service allocations in the frequency band 1 240-1 300 MHz;

 taking into account the results of the above review, to study possible technical and operational measures to ensure the protection of RNSS (space-to-Earth) receivers from the amateur and amateur-satellite services in the frequency band 1 240-1 300 MHz, without considering the removal of these amateur and amateur-satellite service allocations,

instructs the Director of the Radiocommunication Bureau

to include the results of these studies in his Report to WRC-23 for the purpose of considering appropriate actions in response to resolves to invite the ITU Radiocommunication Sector above.”
While we had succeeded in limiting work to a part of the report of the Director of the Radiocommunication Bureau rather than a full agenda item, and avoided the explicit mention of removing the amateur allocation in the Resolution, the risk was clear; that amateur operators could lose access to part, or all, of the 23 cm band, through exclusion or imposition of severe operational limitations. In response, the IARU and various national amateur radio societies allocated significant resources to get the best possible outcome, or what became to be viewed as a ‘least-worst’ outcome. With that objective in mind, we succeeded at WRC-23.

The journey

None of us will ever forget the news reports coming out of China in late 2019 and early 2020 about a previously unknown disease called COVID-19 which rapidly led to global illness, lockdowns, and travel restriction. These issues made initial work on WRC-23 agenda item 9.1b even more arduous. An additional complication was that because the issue covered two radiocommunication services, work was split between two ITU-R Working Parties: Working Party 4C covering the RNSS aspects and Working Party 5A covering the amateur aspects. The travel restrictions meant that all ITU-R meetings until about May 2022 were virtual and they ran on Geneva time, so I attended many meeting sessions between about 8 PM and 4 AM Eastern Standard Time in Australia. In addition, there were four APG meetings which I attended remotely and these ran on Bangkok time. After the travel restrictions were removed in early 2022, I was able to attend the various meetings in person; there were four meetings in Geneva, one in Merida (Mexico) and one in Brisbane. All these meetings, both virtual and face-to-face, lasted between one and two weeks with each meeting having many individual discussion sessions. Peter was partially involved in the early meetings and became fully involved prior to the APG23-6 meeting in Brisbane. Amateur delegates from other national societies and the IARU were in a similar situation and everyone was aware of what was at stake: continued usable amateur access to the 23 cm band.
Work on agenda item 9.1b started with ITU-R Working Party 5A doing a review of the amateur usage of the 23 cm band and this included the types of amateur applications used in the band e.g. voice, data, television etc., typical characteristics of amateur stations, station density, band occupancy and usage patterns. Much of the data we used came from a survey of radio societies in Europe which was undertaken by IARU Region 1 and it was useful information to have for future work. The review was intended to address resolves 1 of Resolution 774 (WRC-19). Once the review had sufficiently progressed it was possible for Working Party 4C to consider the interference potential of the amateur activities on RNSS (space-to-Earth) receivers operating in the same band, as well as providing the necessary interference protection criteria. Once the application data and protection criteria were known it was possible for Working Party 5A to address resolves 2 of the Resolution leading to the development of “possible technical and operational measures to ensure the protection of RNSS (space-to-Earth) receivers…”. If all this sounds easy; it wasn’t… The significant resources of our opponents and the weight of the regulations were against the amateur service, so it was a long fight, with countless hours spent arguing and drafting various texts. In the end, just prior to WRC-23 we had three approved documents:

 From Working Party 4C; Report ITU-R M.2513-0 Studies regarding the protection of the primary radionavigation-satellite service (space-to-Earth) by the secondary amateur and amateur-satellite services in the frequency band 1 240-1 300 MHz

 From Working Party 5A; Report ITU-R M.2532-0 Amateur and amateur-satellite services characteristics and usage in the 1 240 1 300 MHz frequency band, and

 Recommendation ITU-R M.2164-0 Guidance on technical and operational measures for the use of the frequency band 1 240-1 300 MHz by the amateur and amateur-satellite service in order to protect the radionavigation-satellite service (space-to-Earth)

 Recommendation ITU-R M.2164-0 was the most critical document for our work at WRC-23 and without it we would have faced a far more difficult situation leading to a much worse WRC-23 outcome. Unusually, the Recommendation had to progress all the way to the ITU Radiocommunication Assembly 2023 (RA-23) for final drafting and approval and this was a very rare event. After a stressful week at RA-23, the Recommendation was approved and Barry Lewis G4SJH, Jon Siverling WB3ERA and Flavio Archangelo PY2ZX deserve full credit for their efforts in the obtaining approval of the Recommendation just two days before WRC-23 started. It was a magnificent achievement under the circumstances of a very hard deadline.

The Big Show

WRC-23 started on 20 November 2023 and ran through to 15 December 2023, nearly 4000 people from most of the 192 ITU member states and many sector members (like the IARU) had registered for the conference which was held in the World Trade Centre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The conference facilities were excellent and everything worked very well. Our generous and gracious host was the UAE Government represented by the Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority (TDRA); their efforts to make the conference facilities complete and functional were superb, and the special events for delegates were very much appreciated.
As the Conference revises the Radio Regulations (RR) treaty, it is a Sovereign Conference and only member states can make interventions and decisions during the formal meeting sessions, though in the informal sessions all ITU members could participate. Peter and I were members of the Australian Delegation of about 40 people, our attendance had been approved by the Australian Government and we had specified duties and obligations at the Conference. The Head of the Australian Delegation was provided from the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications, and the Arts (DITRDCA) and Deputy Head of Delegation from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).
Prior to the conference arrangements were made so that I was nominated as Chair for the WRC-23 meetings covering agenda item 9.1b and we were also able to arrange for Peter to be lead negotiator for Australia on the topic. It also transpired that Peter was appointed as the agenda item 9.1b coordinator and spokesperson for the Asia-Pacific Telecommunity (APT). This was good because Peter was able to speak for Australia and the Asia-Pacific region (better known as ITU Region 3). The APT is a Regional Telecommunication Organisation, one of six similar groups (APT, ASMG, ATU, CEPT, CITEL and RCC), and these groups have significant influence in all ITU-R negotiations. To some extent the outcome of work on agenda item 9.1b rested in their hands.
There are three facts of life in the ITU-R: 1) all decisions are consensus-based, 2) words matter in very important and subtle ways, 3) it’s not over until it’s over:

 Consensus is when there are no more objections to a particular section of text and getting suitable text can take some time and involve compromises when the views of the participants are diametrically opposed; we were in that situation for agenda item 9.1b.

 Text in the footnotes to the RR can be mandatory (using the word shall) or non-mandatory (using the word should), I lost count of how many times we switched between those words in one critical place.

 Agreed regulatory text from each sub-working group must be approved at multiple higher-level meetings. In our case by the parent Working Group 4B which was chaired by the charming and very competent Ms. Sandra Wright of the USA, then by COMMITTEE 4 Chaired by the capable Dr. Hiroyuki Atarashi of Japan. Proposed regulatory text must then pass through two readings at a WRC-23 Plenary meeting Chaired by Engineer Mr. Mohammed Al Ramsi of the United Arab Emirates. At each step the text can be challenged and revised so vigilance is needed all the way through until the text becomes part of the Final Acts of the Conference.

The pointy bit

I was confirmed as Chair of WRC-23 Sub-Working Group 4B7 (SWG4B7) and our scope of work was to address Resolution 774 (WRC-19). Prior to WRC-23 I was Chair of ITU-R Working Group 5A-1 Amateur and amateur-satellites services so I knew the issues very well. SWG4B7 met for seven intense sessions over the first two weeks of the conference and various arguments and proposals flowed and ebbed with strong interventions from our opponents in CEPT, RCC, France and other European administrations, with supportive interventions from the APT, CITEL, the US and Australia. Between the meetings of SWG4B7 all the meeting participants spent their time to talking to key stakeholders to try and resolve difficulties and get support for their view; in reality these ‘corridor conversations’ are a key part of WRC work and an important reason for attending these meetings.

Getting consensus is generally challenging in all ITU meetings and the role of Chair is to be neutral, to ensure that all meeting participants are heard, that appropriate order is maintained, due process is observed, drafting text as it develops and suggesting ways forward when progress stalls. The starting point for discussion is a composite document which contains the views of all parties, the meeting then works through that document revising, adding, and subtracting text as necessary. Over time, through a combination of argument, goodwill, and exhaustion it’s usually possible to achieve a result that everyone can live with i.e., ‘everyone is equally unhappy’. At one stage we had ten options open and we had to get down to one. It was a roller-coaster ride with my feelings going from despair to hope that some form of agreement might be achieved. At one late meeting I threatened to lock the doors and not let anyone out for dinner until we had a result. I put my dinner on the table for all to see, so I wasn’t going hungry, but the rest might. It seemed to work…

In the end we agreed on a footnote to Article 5 of the RR and this was approved by the Conference during its 7th Plenary meeting:

“5.A91B Administrations authorizing operation of the amateur and amateur-satellite services in the frequency band 1 240-1 300 MHz, or portions thereof, shall ensure that the amateur and amateur-satellite services do not cause harmful interference to radionavigation-satellite service (space-to-Earth) receivers in accordance with No. 5.29 (see the most recent version of Recommendation ITU R M.2164). The authorizing administration, upon receipt of a report of harmful interference caused by a station of the amateur or amateur-satellite services, shall take all necessary steps to rapidly eliminate such interference. (WRC 23)”

The key point in this text is ‘see the most recent version of Recommendation ITU-R M.2164.’ which is not mandatory. Two other possible variations of this text were: ‘The use of the frequency band 1 240-1 300 MHz by the amateur and amateur-satellite services shall be in accordance with the technical and operational conditions defined … Recommendation ITU-R M.2164-0…’ versus,
‘The use of the frequency band 1 240-1 300 MHz by the amateur and amateur-satellite services should be in accordance with the technical and operational conditions defined … Recommendation ITU-R M.2164…’.

The textual difference is small but the regulatory implications are huge; the first version is mandatory and the Recommendation is ‘incorporated by reference’ into the RR while the second version is not mandatory. The ultimate solution was to use what is known in the ITU as the ‘Australian method’ and to use other words altogether and that eventually worked. The words ‘See the most recent version of Recommendation ITU-R M.2164.’ is not mandatory but provides guidance to administrations who wish to apply it. The rest of the footnote is pretty much standard ITU regulatory text, it appears in other footnotes and simply serves as a reminder.

While we aimed for No Change to the RR the agreed text developed for the footnote is a reasonable compromise. It is not mandatory and is quite benign, leaving it to individual administrations to the use the guidance contained in Recommendation ITU-R M. M.2164-0 to address any interference problems if they arise. We also managed to keep within scope despite a strong push by RCC (the RTO centered on the Russian Federation with nearby countries) to expand the work to cover other primary services in the 1240 – 1300 MHz band which would have been a very bad outcome because it would have resulted in more ITU-R studies and possible future adverse regulatory actions.
The accompanying task was the suppression of Resolution 774 (WRC-19) at this Conference, which was successful, and accepted along with the above footnote. There was a risk that the Resolution would be revised leading to a further four years of studies, so suppression was another good outcome.


Aside from the above activity focused on agenda item 9.1b Peter and I also followed various other agenda items of concern to amateurs, notably the issue of a new allocations for VHF space-borne RADAR systems (agenda item 1.12) which is a potential source of interference to the amateur operation at the lower of to the 50 MHz band. This item was satisfactorily resolved through limiting operation of space-borne RADAR systems to polar areas with strict emission and time limitations. We also attended other agenda item meetings, in particular the many meetings of agenda item 10 which considers possible WRC-27 and WRC-31 agenda items and these will be discussed later.

Related issues

Peter represents WIA on the joint Australia/New Zealand standards committee RC-004 (Radiocommunications equipment – Maritime and Safety of Life) and many amateurs have an interest in maritime communication issues. Peter was able to follow some sessions on the maritime radio-related issues, namely agenda item 1.11:

“1.11 to consider possible regulatory actions to support the modernization of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) and the implementation of e-navigation, in accordance with Resolution 361 (Rev.WRC-19);”

Narrow-band direct-printing (NBDP) (or ‘radiotelex’) for distress and safety communications has been deleted from the GMDSS in RR Appendices 15 and 17 for MF and HF in all bands, which reflects the outcome of the IMO’s modernization of the GMDSS. However, it is still permitted to use direct-printing telegraphy for general maritime communications and broadcasting maritime safety information. A new automatic connection system (ACS) was approved using Digital Selective Calling techniques on the frequencies which had previously been used by NBDP for GMDSS in all MF and HF maritime bands.

All references to satellite EPIRBs operating in the frequency band 1 645.5 – 1 646.5 MHz for the GMDSS have been removed. This service ceased some years ago, and the band remained unused. Discussions on the future use of the band proved difficult. It was agreed that the frequency band remain in Appendix 15 limited to distress, urgency and safety communications.

Although the VHF signals of AIS-SARTs (automatic identification system-search and rescue transmitters) on AIS 1 and AIS 2 channels in RR Appendix 18 were already extant in Appendix 15, they are now included in the RR as locating signals on survival craft stations. The RR now fully implement IMO’s Safety of Life Convention (SOLAS) provisions that AIS-SARTs can be carried on ships in lieu of X-band radar SARTs (search and rescue transponders). References to VHF EPIRBs which used Digital Selective Calling techniques on 156.525 MHz (channel 70) have also been deleted, as these have been removed from SOLAS.

In RR Appendix 17, six HF frequencies in the range 4 MHz to 22 MHz have been inserted for the Navigational Data (NAVDAT) system of broadcasting maritime safety information, with 4 226 kHz has been designated as the exclusive HF frequency for the international NAVDAT system, whereas the others are for the national NAVDAT system. It should be noted that the MF frequency of 500 kHz for MF NAVDAT had been approved at an earlier WRC.
The radiotelegraphy code “NNN” to indicate a “neutral ship” (ships and aircraft of States not parties to an armed conflict) has been deleted from the relevant Resolution.

It’s about time

One issue that has been part of several past WRCs is that of the status of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) and on the cessation of leap seconds, and the implementation of a continuous UTC time scale (at least for a century). Noting that the ITU-R is only responsible for the dissemination of time information and not time-keeping itself, Resolution 655 (Rev. WRC-23) now has been updated to reflect the Resolution 4 from the 27th Meeting of General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM) on the issue, which recognizes that not all time dissemination methods include the difference between UT1 and UTC (currently constrained to be within 0.9 seconds by the practice of inserting or deleting leap seconds). The 28th Meeting of the CGPM in 2026 is expected to examine draft proposals. A transitional period of up may be up to 15 years, in accordance with Report ITU R TF.2511, and that the maximum value for the difference between UT1 and UTC should be no less than 100 seconds.

Going forward, working towards WRC-27 and WRC-31

There are no agenda items for WRC-27 which are seeking new amateur allocations, or are a specific threat to amateur bands, however WRC-23 did approve two preliminary agenda items for WRC-31 which are of interest or concern to amateur operators. The first preliminary item is further work on Wireless Power Transfer which remains an item of concern because of the potential for radio frequency interference. The second preliminary agenda item for WRC-31 covers a potential new allocation to the amateur, amateur-satellite and other services in the frequency band 275 – 325 GHz. If we are to have success in getting a new amateur allocation in these millimeter wave bands will have to start work on a new ITU-R Report to provide details on the characteristics of amateur stations and applications that might be used in the mm wave range. Such a report would inform the decision that WRC-27 will make on agenda items for WRC-31.


Overall, the result of our work at WRC-23 on all topics was positive and the outcome of hundreds of hours of meetings, a lot of travel and many late nights. In Australia, and across the globe, there were amateurs working on these issues and I’m proud that we can continue to take part in maintaining and developing the Radio Regulations, Recommendations and Reports that are the basis of the existence of the amateur and amateur-satellite services and fundamental to our ability to get on the air. I thank all those amateurs who donated a significant amount of time towards our work.

Looking to the future, the results of all the decisions at WRC-23 (known as the ‘Final Acts of WRC-23’) will come into force on 01 January 2025. We don’t know if any part of the ‘technical and operational measures’ provided in the Recommendation ITU-R M.2164 will be applied in Australia, but it is critically important that all amateurs using the 23 cm band are aware of the possibility of interference to the primary users of the band, especially sensitive RNSS receivers. We must take care to operate within the regulatory obligations of a secondary service, and our licence conditions, to not cause interference to primary services and that means making sure our signals are ‘clean,’ not using unnecessarily high-power transmitters, and use the minimum bandwidth along with any other measures to limit the possibility of interference. Remember, it took just one station to cause all the above work, so doing our part will help keep our access to the band.

Conclusion and thanks

All the work at a WRC is a team effort and there are many people to thank and over the years we have developed good working relationships with IARU, ITU, APT, ACMA and Departmental personnel. I particular the guidance and support of the following people is gratefully acknowledged:

 Mr. Ole Garpestad LA2RR, IARU Vice President who is retiring after WRC-23.
 Mr. Barry Lewis G4SJH, RSGB Microwave Manager, who was the IARU lead for WRC-23 agenda item 9.1b and was the key liaison person between the amateurs and RNSS communities.
 Dr. Jose Costa from Canada, Chair ITU-R Working Party 5A, also retiring after many years of service. Jose was always supportive of our work in WP-5A in Geneva, I will miss his kind guidance.

At WRC-23, the following people helped us:
 Ms. Sandra Wright of the USA, Working Group 4B Chair. Sandra always responded positively to my requests for more meetings or information and she defended our work in the higher-level WRC-23 meetings.
 Ms. Cessy Karina, ITU officer. Cessy did all the administrative tasks like processing documents, booking rooms etc., she made my life much easier.

We thank the WIA President and Board for their ongoing support of our work. Especially for fully funding Peter’s trip to Dubai and the Brisbane APG23-6 meeting. I also thank IARU International Secretariat and the WIA for jointly funding my trip to WRC-23 and for trips to attend the meetings of ITU-R Working Group 5A-1.

We also thank the staff of the DITRDCA and the ACMA for their ongoing spectrum policy and management work and for the ability of all spectrum stakeholders to be part of the WRC process in Australia and at WRC.

Finally, I sincerely thank my wife for her patience for my frequent and lengthy absences from home to attend all the meetings.
 Dale Hughes VK1DSH and Peter Pokorny VK2EMR

Page Last Updated: Sunday, 17 Dec 2023 at 19:52 hours by Peter Clee


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