A regulatory blocking maneuver by a rival L-band satellite operator could delay the introduction of Inmarsat’s new mobile broadband service in the United States.

London-based Inmarsat is on the verge of being able to offer its Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) in the Americas via its second I-4 satellite. Launched Nov. 8, the satellite completed initial on-orbit testing in December and is being moved to its operating location at 64 degrees east longitude over the Indian Ocean, where it is expected to arrive in January.

“As soon as the satellite is tested and ready, we’re ready to provide service,” said Diane Cornell, Inmarsat vice president for government affairs. She said service rollout is tentatively scheduled for the second quarter of 2006.

The satellite is licensed in the United Kingdom, and three Inmarsat resellers, Stratos Global, Telenor Satellite Services and France Telecom, are seeking Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approval to distribute BGAN services in the United States.

But Mobile Satellite Ventures (MSV) of Reston, Va., petitioned the FCC Oct. 28 to deny the distributors’ requests on grounds that the BGAN service has the potential to interfere with its next-generation L-band satellite system, which the company plans to launch around the end of the decade. MSV, which operates two L-band mobile communications satellites, has just signed a contract with Boeing Satellite Systems for construction of up to three new satellites.

Inmarsat has been using L-band spectrum licensed to Mobile Satellite Ventures under an agreement between the companies reached in 1996. Now MSV wants that spectrum back and is calling for a broader reallocation of L-band satellite spectrum.

“The coordination among satellite systems is a normal course of business, with the goal of ensuring there is no interference among systems today,” said Jennifer Manner, vice president of regulatory affairs for MSV. Inmarsat’s new system, “with significantly different characteristics, has yet to be coordinated,” she said.

Inmarsat has invested heavily in the BGAN service, which will provide high-speed broadband connectivity almost anywhere on the globe to mobile users equipped with laptop-sized terminals. The foundation of BGAN is three very large satellites, the first of which was launched last March and is now providing the service in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Manner said BGAN has different technical characteristics than the Inmarsat services currently available in the United States and thus has the potential to cause interference. MSV also needs the spectrum it loaned Inmarsat back so it can begin preparing for its own next-generation service, she said.

Cornell said her company is well within its rights.

“We believe the spectrum being legitimately used by Inmarsat should continue to be used by Inmarsat under the principles” of an international L-band spectrum-sharing arrangement reached in 1996, Cornell said. “The BGAN service is something that’s very important to get up and running as soon as possible for our users, many of them government.”

Cornell also said the I-4 satellites operate within the same technical envelope as previous-generation Inmarsat satellites that today provide service in the United States. “There’s no legitimate reason to claim that there’s a greater potential for interference than the existing satellite,” she said.

MSV has petitioned the FCC to deny BGAN access to the United States until the current L-band distribution arrangements are renegotiated. Those arrangements for L-band spectrum in North America, based on an international agreement reached in 1996 by five L-band satellite operators, including Inmarsat and MSV, are supposed to be updated on an annual basis. But this has not happened since 1999, according to both Inmarsat and MSV.

Cornell said she expects the FCC to take several months to resolve the matter.

Jacki Ponti, associate bureau chief for the FCC’s International Bureau, said she could not comment on the matter because it is a pending application.

A former FCC official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said it was likely that the commission would take the reorganization of the L-band seriously before approving the distributors’ applications.

“My instinct is that the commission is not going to be wanting to grant all sorts of authorizations until this gets worked out,” the former official said. “If the L-band is reorganized and rationalized, consumers will be better off, and the public safety community will be better off. It’s about time the L-band is looked at again.”

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