Another C-band Challenge Expected at Upcoming Global Spectrum Conference

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PARIS — Commercial satellite fleet operators, who were forced to scramble in 2007 to prevent a raid on their C-band frequency allocations by terrestrial service providers, say they are starting early to mount their defenses in advance of the next meeting of global frequency regulators.

How seriously the battle for C-band frequencies will be at the next World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC), scheduled for 2015, is anyone’s guess.

Gerald Oberst, senior vice president for global regulatory and government strategy at fleet operator SES of Luxembourg, said the early preparations for the WRC-15 conference of global frequency regulators have not yet clarified the battle lines.

Cato Halsaa, president of the European Satellite Operators Association, recently addressed European Commission and European Parliament members saying that European Union nations need to review their position on C-band allocations and more generally take account of the satellite industry in their regulatory policy. “Satellite spectrum is under threat,” Halsaa told the regulators in a Jan. 29 address.

In a March 14 interview, Oberst specifically said the European bloc of nations, which in 2007 was lined up — with the exception of Luxembourg — in favor of giving terrestrial operators access to C-band frequencies now reserved for satellite use, has not yet formed a position.

But as was the case with WRC-07, the WRC-15 agenda clearly invites a debate on how more radio spectrum can be made available for terrestrial wireless applications.

The four-week WRC-07 conference ended with a victory of sorts for the pro-satellite interests. Regulators at the conference agreed, after lengthy debate, that the 3.4-to 4.2-gigahertz C-band frequencies should remain a priority allocation for satellite transmissions.

But the regulators also agreed that each nation had a right to opt out of the general consensus and to allocate these frequencies as it wished in its own territory — so long as any resulting terrestrial wireless broadcasts did not interfere with satellite transmissions in a neighboring country.

Six years later, that remains the status of C-band regulatory allocations. But with each new WRC, and no letup in the pressure for bandwidth on behalf of terrestrial wireless broadband operators, the possibility remains that regulators will reopen the same issues in 2015.

Ethan Lavan, director of orbital resources at satellite fleet operator Eutelsat of Paris, said that while WRC decision-making is not necessarily bound by previous rulings, the decisions of WRC-07 set a basis in the regulations that will provide at least some support to the pro-satellite side in 2015.

“We now have a backing in the regulations on how C-band should be protected,” Lavan said in a March 14 interview. “So there is already something we can work up” in the run-up to WRC-15, he said.

“In 2007, a lot of the [satellite] user community and beneficiaries of satellite broadcasts were not aware of the issues,” Lavan said, a fact that made the satellite side’s argument more difficult to sell. That should no longer be the case in 2015.

Since 2007, the decision by some nations to allow terrestrial wireless broadband services to operate more freely in C-band has produced multiple examples of satellite signals being wiped out, said David Hartshorn, secretary-general of the Global VSAT Forum, a nonprofit organization that represents satellite telecommunications companies and has been active in the developing world.

“It has been a fiasco” in some nations in Africa, Hartshorn said, as longstanding satellite services are suddenly knocked out of commission because of a newly installed terrestrial wireless application operating in the same radio frequencies.

Hartshorn said his organization has begun coordinating with regional satellite broadcasting groups in India, East Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere to prepare for WRC-15, which will be preceded by a series of regional preparatory meetings during which each region will try to develop a consensus position.

C-band remains a primary frequency for satellite transmissions, especially in areas of the world with heavy rainfall because C-band broadcasts are less susceptible than Ku-band signals to attenuation from humidity.

Some operators fear that C-band is not the only frequency under threat as the terrestrial operators seek high and low for a greater slice of limited radio spectrum.

“There is going to be a huge food fight at the next WRC over radio allocations,” Oberst said. “It’s not just C-band.”