Saturday, October 27, 2007

Sputnik and the Conference

This is a copy of the world's first satellite, Sputnik 1, and has just been given by the Russian Federation to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its launch. Its currently sitting in the Geneva CICG conference centre which is hosting WRC '07 aka the World Radiocommunications Conference 2007 - or more simply known as "The Conference"

So what is a WRC and why do we call it "The Conference" with all those capitals? One answer is another question - how is it that if you travel abroad your phone will work?

The ability to roam around the world with a single phone is one of the tangible results of previous WRCs where thousands of delegates have argued for weeks in the bomb shelter like CICG to agree common frequencies for the radio systems to work.

Radio waves do not stop at country borders but leak into others. Therefore countries must get together to manage what we call the radio spectrum - the range of frequencies that we use for radio, tv, phones, satellite, radar, and so on.

The ITU is the part of the international framework of organisations that is responsible for this and related tasks. It is actually the oldest such organisation, with its key document, the Radio Regulations, now over a hundred years old. Its history can be read here.

The job of "The Conference" is to update the Radio Regulations, which has the status of a treaty document. So unlike normal conferences involving listening or giving papers, this is involves serious negotiation between countries, and only occurs every couple of years (four at the moment).

It is frustrating and fascinating in equal proportions. There is a delicate balance of technical and political arguments, and the RR themselves are the messy results of countless compromises in uncounted numbers of international committees

So if your 4G videophone in the future works from Melbourne to Vancouver to London it will be to some degree due to those delegates who are even now debating in the halls where Sputnik is on display.

1 comment:

Eric Samworth said...

Interesting post, thanks, lets hope that this illustrious gathering can come to an agreement quickly so that we can all share in the fantastic benefits a global 4G network would bring