Telesat undecided on Intelsat, Intel C-band proposal

by

Updated at 10:03 p.m. Eastern.

WASHINGTON — Canadian satellite operator Telesat says it is still reviewing Intelsat and Intel’s controversial proposal for letting terrestrial 5G networks use C-band satellite spectrum in the United States, and has yet to make a decision for or against.

Telesat is one of a handful of satellite operators with meaningful C-band capacity over the U.S., having less than Intelsat and SES, but more than Eutelsat.

Intelsat and Intel submitted a proposal to the Federal Communications Commission last month that would have satellite operators voluntarily move their customers to a different swath of C-band in exchange for financial compensation from telcos for the cost of relocation and forfeited business opportunities. Metropolitan regions would be most affected by this plan, according to Intelsat, while rural areas with less demand for 5G would be spared.

Dan Goldberg, Telesat’s president and CEO, said the Ottawa-based company is well aware that the FCC “is looking hard at candidate frequency bands to accommodate more terrestrial wireless growth, particularly for 5G,” and that C-band from 3.7 to 4.2 GHz is a popular candidate. C-band stretches from 3.4 to 4.2 GHz, but in the U.S., 3.7 to 4.2 is allocated to satellite operators and predominantly used for television broadcasts.

“We operate certain C-band satellites, including at least three C-band satellites serving the U.S. and we have market access for those,” he said. “We are looking at what Intelsat has proposed. Beyond that, we need to do a little bit more analysis, and then we’ll come out and share our perspective on it.”

SES, Eutelsat and Telesat have refrained from taking a public position on the Intelsat-Intel proposal. ABS, an operator primarily covering the Asia-Pacific and Africa, but with a smattering of C-band over North America, has decried the proposal. If the FCC accepts Intelsat and Intel’s proposal, satellite operators with C-band customers in the United States will all have to participate.

View of market conditions unchanged

Telesat has two prototype low-Earth orbit communications satellites launching this year, and two geostationary high-throughput satellites (HTS) — Telstar 18 Vantage and Telstar 19 Vantage — launching on SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets next year. The operator’s fill rate for North American satellites stood at 95 percent as of Sept. 30, and 67 percent for the rest of the world.

Goldberg said oversupply of satellite capacity continues to create downward pressure on prices, but that the market has not changed drastically. He estimated that about a third of the capacity on Telstar-19 Vantage is pre-sold, the overwhelming majority of which is for the full life of the satellite. Hughes Network Systems and Bell Canada are anchor customers.

Telesat is pivoting much of its HTS strategy to LEO with a 120-satellite Ka-band constellation planned. After testing the two prototypes in 2018, the company expects to begin launching in 2020 with service starting in 2021. In an October interview, Telesat LEO’s vice president Erwin Hudson said “other commercial considerations are really secondary” when asked if he was concerned that LEO-HTS would obviate the need for GEO-HTS.

Telesat generated $214 million in Canadian dollars ($167 million) for the three months ended Sept. 30, a decline of 4 percent compared to the same quarter last year. The company said adjusting for a weaker U.S. dollar shows a revenue decrease of 3 percent instead.

Telesat’s adjusted Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization, or EBITDA, was $174 million Canadian dollars, down 5 percent year over year when factoring changes in foreign exchange rate. Net income rose to $197 million Canadian dollars, up substantially from $15 million the year prior thanks to a “higher non-cash gain on foreign exchange, arising principally from the translation of Telesat’s U.S. dollar denominated debt into Canadian dollars, and favorable changes in the fair value of financial instruments in the third quarter of 2017.”