A Primer in


 by W. J. Wilson, assisted by G. C. Brooks and F. G. Perrin


The electromagnetic spectrum is a recently discovered natural resource. It was only about a hundred years ago that people discovered it and found that they could make some use of it. Since then, the only non-technical difficulties in providing for its orderly use were the problems of finding and updating methods for managing its use as technology and knowledge regarding its behavior grew and as new radiocommunication services evolved.


The first significant use of radio was for maritime mobile ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore communications by radio telegraph. Those having to do then with that kind of communications quickly realized the great distances over which communications by radio would be possible and they decided that radio would have to be managed internationally if people were to realize its maximum benefits. The first international meeting about radio was the Berlin International Radio Conference held in 1906. It did not involve many countries. However, Canada has been an active participant in such meetings from the beginning. The next important radio conference of those early days was the 1927 Washington International Radiotelegraph Conference and among other things it established the International Radio Consultative Radio Committee (CCIR). Then in 1932 an international conference at Madrid led to the merger of the Telegraph and Radiotelegraph Conventions and to the International Telegraph Union changing its name to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Then a very important post-war ITU World Radio Conference held in Atlantic City in 1947 brought together more countries than ever before to internationally reorganize the world's use of radio, to provide for more kinds of radio uses and to involve the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and its Members in the future management of the world's radio spectrum to a greater extent than ever before.


The very nature of radio propagation and the geography of the world made it mandatory that the radio spectrum be managed internationally on a world-wide basis. It did not take long, however, to recognize that this international management had to be done in such a way that countries could establish radio communications with other countries. At the same time it was recognized that countries should be able to manage the spectrum within their own borders to satisfy their domestic communications needs However, such national use must be within the bounds of the ITU Radio Regulations, an international treaty. The ITU's  role in radio is thus satisfied.


Today the objective of spectrum management is to do so for the general welfare of the country, for the attainment of its national goals and for the general public's interest, convenience or necessity. There is still no completely objective or mathematical means for making spectrum management decisions under these general criteria. Despite the basic limitations in achieving a perfect method of management, the use of the spectrum has continued to grow and contribute to Canada's national economy and social well-being. The essence of the present system of spectrum management is that ultimate decisions must be based on human judgment exercised after all available and relevant domestic and international information has been considered.


The management of this radio resource follows the same basic steps as any other resource management program and is described very briefly but completely in the following few words: planning, application, evaluation, approval and follow-up. A sub-step requiring coordination of individual planned frequencies for certain services and or certain bands with neighboring countries in adjacent border areas or with the ITU may also be necessary, and in many cases the obligation to notify such use to the ITU.


A key activity required to ensure the effectiveness of a spectrum management program is control, particularly in the evaluation, approval and follow-up steps. This includes the maintenance of good records regarding station location, frequencies authorized and radio services being provided. It should be noted here that all the uses made of radio frequencies are now classified and defined for spectrum management purposes as radio services. For example, radio used for ship-to-ship and/or ship-to-shore communications is defined as the maritime mobile radio service.


The attached chart gives a very simplified graphical picture of "Radio Frequency Spectrum Management" in flow chart form as followed by Canada since roughly 1925. It includes the relationship of the domestic and international activities in which the Radio Regulations Branch (a part at various times of at least four Departments of the Federal Government and now a part of Industry Canada) has taken part as it managed the use of this important resource at least until the 1980s.


Click on the chart to enlarge


The most important of the two groups shown on this chart from Canada's view point is, of course, the domestic group and of this group the Radio Regulations Branch is the most important sub-group. Its role is set out in the Radio Communications Act and its tasks are as generally shown in this chart. It also organizes Canadian participation in ITU preparatory radio conferences as well as in ITU World Radio Conferences that determine the International Radio Regulations governing the world's use of radio. Proper management throughout Canada required a Canada wide organization comprising 6 Regional Offices each with its own organization of district offices. The other two sub-groups in the domestic group are advisory in nature and are the users of radio and the suppliers of radio equipment, i.e. manufacturers and importers. Included in the sub-group of users are the Federal and Provincial government departments and agencies providing communications services such as radio aids to marine and air navigation, public safety, police, fire, and defence. Manufacturers were represented by the Electronic Industries Association of Canada. The Branch began to use these two sub-groups as advisors in 1943 when there were only a few thousand radio stations in Canada, pulling them together to form the Canadian Radio Technical Planning Board. The Radio Advisory Board of Canada, its successor, is now much larger and pulls together representatives from both of these sub-groups. The Radio Regulations Branch further enlarged its public consultation in 1968 by starting to publish its proposals to amend the Canadian Radio Regulations as well as its proposals to World Radio Conferences in the Canada Gazette and to invite comment from the general public on them.


While one can describe spectrum management as a domestic activity as shown on the attached chart, the fact that radio ignores political boundaries means that a country must also coordinate its planning and use of its radio frequencies with its neighbouring countries. For example, Canada has over 20 frequency coordination agreements with countries in North America. Most are with the United States. For a partial list of early Canada/United States agreements see www.spectralumni.ca site. Such agreements are encouraged by the ITU provided they are in accord with the ITU's International Radio Regulations.


The other group on the chart that is of great importance to Canada is the organization mentioned earlier that is responsible for international aspects of spectrum management and regulation, the International Telecommunications Union, now a specialized agency of the United Nations based in Geneva, Switzerland. Actually the ITU looks after many kinds of international telecommunications matters. Because radio is universal and used worldwide, radio gets a great deal of the ITU's attention. When the ITU was reorganized at the 1992 Plenipotentiary Conference into sectors, a Radiocommunications Sector was created specifically to deal with world radio matters


Most of the work of international spectrum management and regulation started in the early 1900s and was done by World Administrative Radio Conferences. Preparation for these conferences was often assisted by meetings of Study Groups of the International Consultative Committee on Radio. Some years ago the ITU changed the names of these international meetings and they are now called World Radiocommunication Conferences and Radiocommunication Study Groups respectively. Delegates from 189 member states are eligible To attend these conferences and study groups. Also associates from international organizations representing industries dependent on radio communications, for example ICAO representing the air transport industry, may also attend. Usually those taking part in the above ITU meetings are engineering, technical, operational, spectrum management and regulatory personnel with experience in one or more of the five basic steps of spectrum management learned at home or previous conferences and mentioned earlier in this paper. Their discussions take into account all those worldly developments that require their updating all the international spectrum management steps needed to accommodate the foreseen future needs for world radio communications. They may also make recommendations regarding items for international study or for preparatory meetings to be held to advise future radio conferences.


The products of these radio conferences are updated issues of the International Radio Regulations, in effect international treaties, which give updated and approved international plans to ensure the orderly growth of radio both internationally and domestically, to prevent harmful interference between major radio systems and to tell countries what they can do to modernize their radio communication systems. These Regulations are supplemented, as needed, by Radio Recommendations that are designed to help by guiding countries to build and operate better radio systems. Also they may also suggest subjects that countries should study in preparation for future World Radio Conferences.


Prior to the Atlantic City Plenipotentiary Conference, the ITU kept only a list of frequencies used by the different countries and made no examination as to their conformity with their conformity with the International Radio Regulations. The 1947 Conference established the International Frequency Registration Board. The Board has the responsibility of examining the planned use of frequencies by the various countries to determine the conformity with the Radio Regulations_ The Board evolved over time from a full time Board varying from 11 to 5 members. In 1994 the IFRB was changed to a part time Radio Regulations Board with 9 members and this was subsequently changed in 1998 to a 12 member Board.


Just as a country's spectrum manager has to help and guide those in his country planning to build radio systems, keep a record of radio frequencies approved for use in his country and enforce his country's radio regulations, so the ITU's Radio Regulations Board has occasionally to help developing countries with the planning of new systems and help resolve problems of radio interference. It also keeps a register of frequency assignments made by member states called the Master International Frequency Register which is available as an ITU publication to help countries do their frequency planning and avoid harmful interference problems. Occasionally the Board has to help resolve such problems


To do this work the ITU has a rather unique supporting organization. Its senior management is a Plenipotentiary Conference that meets every few years for 3 weeks or so and is comprised of
senior political representatives of the ITU member countries. These act as would the senior shareholders of a very large business organization responsible for controlling its business relations, finances, and major activities. They also elect the ITU's Council which, just now, comprises senior telecommunications managers from 46 member countries. It meets every year at ITU headquarters for two weeks to deal with lesser management problems of work load, staffing, finances, ITU organization, radio conference agendas, planning and preparation, publicity, etc. The "Plenipot" also elects the Secretary General and Deputy Secretary General, the Directors of the 3 Sector Bureaux (Radiocommunications, Development and Standardization,) which look after the day-to-day management of the ITU's full time permanent staff. It also elects the Members of the part time Radio Regulations Board. They carry out the directives and recommendations of the ITU's representative bodies mentioned briefly above.


W. J. Wilson

Ottawa, January 20, 2006


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