TAMPA, Fla. — Inmarsat is launching legal action over the Dutch government’s plan to auction 3.5 GHz spectrum, which the British satellite operator uses for maritime safety services.

The London-based company said it will seek a judge’s ruling on the potential illegality of the plan to sell the spectrum to terrestrial 5G providers next year. 

Giving wireless operators full use of the frequencies would force Inmarsat to move a ground station in Burum, in the northern part of the Netherlands, where it provides satellite-based safety and distress services for seafarers and aviation passengers.

“Inmarsat uses approximately 25% of the 3.5 GHz band for safety services and our technical studies have shown that we can co-exist alongside 5G in the region,” an Inmarsat official said.

“Therefore this is not about a choice between Inmarsat’s safety & distress services or 5G in the Northern Part of the Netherlands, but which measures need to be taken to allow co-existence between Inmarsat’s services and 5G. So the Dutch Government’s demand for us to move this part of our operations from Burum is unnecessary.”

The operator has another ground station in that part of the world at Fucino, Italy, but says two are needed to ensure high reliability and performance levels.

“Every day, around 1.6 million people and around 160,000 ships worldwide depend on Inmarsat’s service, and thus on the ground station in Burum, for their safety and distress communications,” the official added.

Inmarsat said March 29 it will seek an injunction, through legal proceedings in a civil court in the Netherlands, to review the Dutch government’s proposal.

The satellite operator said it has tried to find an amicable solution for more than 18 months. 

The Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs & Climate Policy was unable to comment before this article was published.

Behind other European countries, the Netherlands sold its first batch of 5G-suitable spectrum last year in the 700 MHz, 1.4 GHz and 2.1 GHz bands.

Dutch telecom operators KPN, VodafoneZiggo and T-Mobile spent around €1.23 billion ($1.45 billion) in total for the frequencies, helping them meet increasing demand for mobile data.

The country’s government has outlined plans to auction the 3.5 GHz frequencies in early 2022, enabling wireless operators to use their new spectrum licenses from September that year.

However, Inmarsat called this timing unrealistic, saying it will require a long transitional term to transfer the frequencies.

The satellite operator provides its maritime safety services free of charge to users, stemming from its history as an intergovernmental organization founded in the 1970s.

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information...