Ondas Media, which is designing a satellite radio system for Europe, has shifted its focus to S-band to take advantage of development of in-car hardware in the United States for the XM and Sirius satellite systems and expects to contract with Space Systems/Loral for three elliptical-orbit satellites before March, Ondas Chief Operating Officer Dave Ryan said Dec. 7.

Madrid, Spain-based Ondas

thus will become the fifth company to compete for the limited S-band spectrum available in Europe. Dividing that spectrum among the candidate companies is now the job of the European Commission, which has entered an arena normally reserved for the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

There are 30 megahertz of S-band spectrum available in

Europe, and the European Commission has decided on a complicated selection formula for picking two or perhaps three companies to license.

In addition to Ondas, companies that have stated their intentions to use S-band for radio

or mobile television broadcasts include Inmarsat of London, ICO Global and TerreStar Corp. of the United States, and a joint venture of satellite-fleet operators SES of Luxembourg and Eutelsat of Paris called Solaris.

Ryan declined to detail how much money Ondas has raised, but said a third round of financing is about completed and will permit the company to sign a firm contract with Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., for three satellites intended to operate in highly elliptical orbit.

Loral is building satellites for Sirius Satellite Radio and XM Satellite Radio of the United States. The Sirius system uses a highly elliptical orbit, while XM’s uses the more-conventional geostationary orbit over the equator. ICO, TerreStar, Inmarsat and the SES-Eutelsat

venture also plan geostationary orbiting satellites.

A highly elliptical satellite system requires three satellites to provide uninterrupted coverage. Sirius is using it in the United States to assure transmissions in the northern states without having to deploy as much ground infrastructure as XM. Ondas is doing the same thing in Europe, whose population is at a higher average latitude than the U.S. population, making a geostationary satellite system problematic in northern nations.

Ryan said Ondas expects that it will cost about 750 million euros ($1.1 billion) to build, launch and insure its three satellites and to deploy network operating facilities. Space Systems/Loral spokeswoman Wendy Lewis confirmed Dec. 7 that the authorization to proceed with work on the satellites had been signed.

had been in a long-running dispute with WorldSpace of the United States over WorldSpace’s plans to deploy a radio broadcasting satellite covering

Europe. Ryan said Ondas has not surrendered its rights to that spectrum, but has switched to S-band to take advantage of the development already made in the United States in Sirius and XM hardware.

“Moving to S-band helps us in a lot of ways,” Ryan said. “It lets us maximize the developments made in the United States, which appeals to car manufacturers in Europe. We can offer a similar form factor for our equipment and eliminate a lot of new development.”

Chief Executive Jacinto Palacios, former chief executive of satellite-fleet operator Hispasat of Spain, has said the company would need about 1.5 billion euros in investment before it reaches the point of cash-flow break-even.

Ryan said S-band candidates in Europe remain concerned that the United Nations-affiliated ITU, which regulates global radio

frequency assignments,
and the European Commission may bump into each other as they seek to set rules for who gets S-band spectrum licenses.