International delegates take a photo call at the Regional Radiocommunications Seminar for the Americas, organised by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU), held in Port of Spain from July 18 to 22, 2016. Seated in the front row, left to right, are Nigel Cassimire, Telecommunications Strategist, CTU; Francois Rancy, Director, Radiocommunication Bureau, ITU; Bernadette Lewis, Secretary General, CTU; and Eduardo Sierra, Financial Markets Specialist, Inter-American Development Bank
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad -- Caribbean countries have found an interesting way to extract value from one invisible shared commodity.
The valuable resource is known to telecommunication industry insiders as spectrum. That’s the simple term for the complex range of electromagnetic frequencies used to transmit sound, video or data over the airwaves.
Spectrum is vital to everyday life. It's what carries voice between mobile phones, television shows to screens, and data from one computer to the next, wirelessly. It supports a growing number of important electronic and digital services, from weather forecasting and road safety applications to national emergency broadcast systems.
But because radio frequencies propagate across borders, transmissions from one country can cause what is known as harmful interference in another country. And when two transmitters get their signals crossed in this way, it can be very frustrating for paying customers in both countries, who experience lower overall quality and reliability of service.
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) coordinates the shared global use of spectrum, but the question of how spectrum is managed within the small, close spaces shared by Caribbean islands is largely one for regional governments and agencies to hash out among themselves.
As they’ve been working together to figure out how their national frequencies should get used and who should benefit, regional officials have struck on the value of spectrum harmonisation.
“We work with national, regional and international organisations to increase the capacity and expertise of our Caribbean practitioners in the space of spectrum management,” said Nigel Cassimire, acting secretary general of the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU), an intergovernmental organisation that advises officials on technology and telecommunications matters.
Through initiatives like its Harmonised Caribbean Spectrum Planning and Management Project, the CTU has helped member-states to pool resources and join efforts to synchronise their spectrum policies.
“For years, we’ve had a situation of harmful interference in the Eastern Caribbean, among the English-speaking, French and Dutch islands. But the CTU's Spectrum Harmonisation project brought together the relevant parties, and there is now a draft agreement between stakeholders in the French territories and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States. They are now seeking to harmonise their individual use of frequencies, such that they minimise harmful interference and improve efficiency in their use of spectrum for mutual benefit,” he said.
As part of the ongoing effort to harmonise member states' use of spectrum, the CTU and ITU organised a weeklong Regional Radiocommunication Seminar from July 18 to 22, facilitated by experts from the ITU, and held with the support of the Inter-American Development Bank. About 50 delegates from the Caribbean, Central and South America gathered in Port of Spain, Trinidad to learn more about the best practices regarding the use of national spectrum, and the current regulatory framework for international frequency management.
“The ITU and the CTU were pleased to work together to bring this forum to the Caribbean,” said Cleveland Thomas, ITU regional representative for the Caribbean.
“Forums like these bring together regional regulators, government officials, technical community and academic researchers, and create a space for professional networking and relationship building."
As part of their effort to avoid harmful interference in the use of spectrum, the ITU holds the World Radiocommunication Conference every three years. Thomas said more Caribbean voices need to be heard at such international fora, if the interests of the region are to be protected on the international stage.
Cassimire agreed and pointed out that events like the joint ITU-CTU workshop represented a tangible effort to amplify the Caribbean region's voice on the global stage.
“Meetings like this help us to increase regional awareness of the important issues being discussed at the global level, to encourage governments to send delegations to significant international meetings such as the World Radiocommunications Conference, and to prepare regional delegates to better represent national and regional interests at those multi-lateral gatherings,” Cassimire said.
Caribbean countries have their work cut out as they seek to get the most out of their use of spectrum. In the meantime, the ongoing regional collaboration makes for an interesting case study in the power of pooled resources and joint effort.