Number, Affiliations of ITU Meeting Attendees Hint at Stakes Involved

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PARIS — Measuring the future value of radio spectrum has always been a dangerous business — as sponsors of several now-bankrupt satellite operators can attest.

Megahertz-Pop is one measure, meaning how much bidders will pay, at auction or in private transactions, per megahertz available to a given population.

When the spectrum is not auctioned, but allocated by regulatory ruling, value assessment is even tougher. One measure is corporate attendance at International Telecommunication (ITU) meetings, which usually last for many days and most often are held in Geneva, an expensive town where the ITU, a United Nations agency, is headquartered.

Tales of off-the-charts mobile phone bills abound after all ITU meetings in Geneva.

The ITU’s 11-day Conference Preparatory Meeting held March 23-April 12 is the latest measure of spectrum’s current value to governments and the private sector. The meeting was held to refine the spectrum issues to be discussed at the four-week World Radiocommunication Conference scheduled for November, which is ITU’s main event.

At an April 2 briefing, the ITU said the preparatory conference this year had attracted 1,300 delegates from 105 nations. Twenty years ago, the same conference drew 418 delegates from 65 nations.

One of the features of ITU meetings is that government delegations often include members who are there on behalf of a particular company. Sometimes it is obvious: The Luxembourg delegation, for example, is unlikely to get crossways with its favorite son, satellite fleet operator SES.

The United Kingdom delegation has made clear it is looking out for the interests of struggling satellite fleet operator Avanti Communications of London.

In addition to the government delegations, industry sends its own lobbyists, and its own staff, to the ITU conferences.

The mixing of loyalties makes it difficult to determine which company sends what firepower to ITU meetings. But the just-completed conference provides a measure of how important this is for some satellite companies.

Not including outside lobbyists registering under their own company names, here is a breakdown of the presence fielded by some of the bigger satellite players, all interested in preserving C-band from encroachment by terrestrial broadband networks:

SES sent 13 people under the SES name, not including government or outside advisors, according to the ITU list of registered delegates. Paris-based Eutelsat sent 11people; Intelsat, seven. AsiaSat of Hong Kong sent four people; Avanti of London, three.

Inmarsat of London, which is fighting for satellite services’ continued exclusive use of C-band as well as for a specific ITU ruling on commercial aircraft tracking, had the biggest satellite delegation. Before accounting for government and outside advisors, Inmarsat’s delegation totaled 24 people.

Inmarsat has been at odds with competitor Iridium Communications of McLean, Virginia, on how ITU should adopt global flight tracking. Iridium’s delegation — again not including outside lobbyists — totaled three.