An agreement on how to divide the world's radio-frequencies among satellite operators, mobile phone companies and broadcasters is close, industry and diplomatic sources said on Tuesday.
Insiders said participants in the month-long World Radiocommunication Conference, due to wrap up on Friday, were wrapping up a deal sharing out the spectrum used in wireless and satellite signals, a finite resource worth billions of dollars.
The details are being finalized, said one participant to the Geneva talks, which have involved 2,600 people including corporate representatives from AT&T, Boeing, Nortel, Sharp, Intel and Qualcomm.
The United States has been pushing for more high-quality spectrum to be earmarked for new mobile technologies, while resisting any loss in the frequencies accessed by the military, as well as for meteorology, maritime distress and safety.
Radio waves are also fundamental for ensuring aircraft safety and natural disaster monitoring. Household devices such as garage-door openers also use such signals, though at a weak level.
Because advanced mobile services are still being developed, and will not require extra spectrum space for several years, sources familiar with the Geneva talks said there was a reluctance to immediately reallocate frequencies in a radical way.
But delegates generally agree that mobile operators should in future be able to get more of the coveted bands of frequencies now used in television transmission, sources said.
When countries switch from analog to digital television broadcasting -- a swap that will happen earlier in rich nations than in poorer ones -- a large chunk of spectrum will be freed up, because digital signals need much less frequency than the older technology does.
Conference chairman Francois Rancy said countries seemed prepared to earmark such sections of the spectrum for use when the new television technology is rolled out, so long as they were not rushed into the potentially costly transition.
The best solution appears to identify a set of frequency bands for the future, i.e. for the next 20 to 30 years, Rancy said, noting this could make room for forthcoming mobile technologies without sacrificing other essential services, such as television broadcasting or fixed-satellite links.
Since this set of frequency bands would be designated worldwide, this would also enable manufacturers to produce equipment in large quantities to be distributed internationally with attractive prices, he said in a statement to delegates.
The World Radiocommunication Conference happens about every four years.