A French government agency is expected to decide in April whether to provide substantial financial backing for a hybrid satellite network to deliver television programming to mobile phones.

The French Agency for Industrial Innovation (AII) is reviewing a proposal by Alcatel of Paris to install a nationwide network of hub stations and also to fund research on user terminals for an S-band network with a satellite to be in orbit by 2009.

The AII decision is one of several expected by cellular network operators and satellite-fleet operator Eutelsat in the coming months that will determine whether Europe opts for a system similar to the MBSAT network that has been a success in South Korea.

Paris-based Eutelsat is proposing to add an S-band payload to its W2A satellite scheduled for launch in late 2008.

Yves Blanc, director of strategy and institutional relations at Eutelsat, said March 3 that the company’s decision will be based largely on whether cellular operators make the choice of a hybrid S-band network instead of a purely terrestrial option.

The large cellular networks in Europe have all begun experimenting with television delivery using their third-generation systems. Most have reported a successful market uptake, but acknowledge that they will need more bandwidth if they are to accommodate the growth expected in the next three or four years.

What Alcatel and Eutelsat are proposing is to take S-band spectrum already allocated to mobile satellite services and add it to the frequencies already used by the cellular operators to create a system that is able to deliver much more programming — in satellite broadcast fashion — without requiring masses of new spectrum that will need regulatory approval.

Eutelsat reiterated in a March 2 announcement that it is willing to add an S-band payload to its W2A satellite but must make a decision before this summer.

Francois Loos, French minister for industry, told a March 2 conference here that satellite-delivered mobile television should receive serious consideration given the success of the service in South Korea. Loos, addressing a meeting of the Mobile TV Forum here, said the South Korean service has secured 450,000 subscribers, each paying the equivalent of 11 euros ($13 ) per month, in less than two years of operation .

Olivier Coste, president of Alcatel Mobile Broadband Activities, said in a March 3 interview that Alcatel is asking the AII to help finance part of the ground installations that would be needed for a hybrid network. Coste said Alcatel is working with Eutelsat, but also with other satellite operators, on such a system and that Eutelsat’s W2A satellite was not the only option.

Blanc said the S-band debate in Europe is expected to be resolved one way or another in the coming months, with the cellular operators as the key decision makers.

“These companies know they need more spectrum to satisfy their demand, and our proposal gives them an option whose costs are known,” Blanc said.

“S-band is available right now, and it would require only a few thousand euros’ investment per base station,” Blanc said. “Our board of directors has already approved the W2A satellite, and wants to make a second decision on the S-band payload before this summer.”

Eutelsat is one of three companies bidding to provide the payload for the European Space Agency’s AlphaSat satellite, scheduled for launch around 2010. Eutelsat’s proposal would make AlphaSat a large S-band system for mobile services and provide assurance to W2A customers that the service would continue for years.

Marc Rouanne, director general of Alcatel mobile communications, told the Mobile TV Forum March 2 that Alcatel planned to begin testing a hybrid S-band system this spring in partnership with the French space agency, CNES.

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