Eutelsat to order single replacement C-band satellite for FCC spectrum clearing

by

WASHINGTON — Fleet operator Eutelsat Communications will need one new satellite to continue to offer C-band communications services in the United States after the Federal Communications Commission auctions a swath of the spectrum. 

Paris-based Eutelsat told the FCC that it will have to replace one geostationary satellite it previously did not plan to replace as a result of the FCC decision to clear spectrum for U.S. 5G networks.

Eutelsat did not give a timeframe for ordering its replacement satellite. However, the operator’s inclusion in the FCC’s $9.7 billion accelerated clearing program means the satellite will almost certainly need to be ordered in the coming months to be in orbit by 2023. 

Eutelsat estimates it will need to spend $171 million to clear its portion of the C-band, a figure that includes $150 million to build and launch the replacement satellite. New C-band ground infrastructure, such as antennas and signal filters, and other customer relocation activities account for the remaining $21 million.  

Eutelsat disclosed the satellite need in its C-band transition plan, a document the FCC required it and four other operators — Intelsat, SES, Telesat and Claro (formerly Embratel Star One) — to provide by June 19. The FCC released the transition plans between June 19 and June 22. 

Eutelsat said it has four satellites serving U.S. customers in C-band, of which Eutelsat-113 West A, requires an “unplanned renewal” because of the C-band auction. 

Launched in 2006, Eutelsat said it intended to retire Eutelsat-113 West A by May 2023 at the latest, after which it would have discontinued service without a replacement. But losing 60% of the C-band capacity satellite operators use today in the U.S. will result in a shortage, necessitating Eutelsat keep four satellites in service, the company said. 

Other operators have already begun ordering satellites for the spectrum transition. Intelsat and SES, which account for the vast majority of U.S. C-band services, have ordered 10 replacement C-band satellites ahead of the FCC’s auction from Boeing, Maxar and Northrop Grumman. Intelsat is negotiating with manufacturers for one more satellite. SES plans to order two more. 

Telesat told the FCC it will not need any replacement satellites, just signal filters so that customers using its Anik-F1R and Anik-F3 satellites can continue service without interference from future 5G cellular signals. 

Claro said it signed a contract with SES for capacity on the SES-4 satellite in order to continue service for a Florida customer currently using its Star One C1 satellite.  

The FCC is requiring winning C-band bidders to cover the costs of satellite operators vacating C-band, meaning Eutelsat, Intelsat, SES, Telesat and Claro will be reimbursed for their moving costs. Eutelsat said it wants the FCC to specify limits on the free satellites, namely that they only operate in the remaining C-band, cover the continental United States, and are not backup satellites.