Satellite Industry Held its Ground at Global Spectrum Conclave
PARIS — A conference of 163 governments on future use of radio spectrum ended Nov. 27 with the satellite industry having mainly held its ground in both current and future uses of radio frequency.
The attempt by terrestrial broadband networks to gain access to C-band frequencies currently reserved for satellite use mainly failed, with the exception of the lower piece of C-band that had already been partly opened to them in 2007.
Some satellite industry officials said the major fleet operators had already begun moving away from the lower section of the band – 3.4-3.6 gigahertz – in recent years as it became clear that terrestrial broadband was moving into it and that satellite and terrestrial networks could not coexist.
These officials minimized the fact that WRC-15, held Nov. 2-27 in Geneva, Switzerland, opened the whole of the 3.4-3.6 gigahertz band to terrestrial networks in the Americas and both Europe and Africa.
The Asia-Pacific region was the only holdout, insisting that this spectrum be preserved for satellites except in nations specifically stating their intent to allow terrestrial networks to use it in their territory.
Just as important to the satellite industry was whether WRC-15’s 3,300 delegates would permit detailed studies of the use of Ka-band by terrestrial networks, with decisions to be made at WRC-19.
WRC-15 ultimately decided that satellite Ka-band frequencies would be removed from the list of potential terrestrial network use. In the search for more bandwidth, satellite networks have moved from C-, to Ku- and now to Ka-band.
“This was a hugely important decision,” said Aarti Holla, secretary-general of the Europe, Middle East and Africa Satellite Operators Association, which includes many of the world’s biggest commercial fleet operators when measured by revenue. “This spectrum is the focus of billions of dollars of investment by the satellite sector.”
The four-week World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC), a quadrennial event held by the United Nations’ International Telecommunications Union (ITU), is typically a messy affair, particularly in its final days, when the toughest issues must be resolved. There are no votes; the meetings are managed by consensus.
Surprisingly, the most-debated subject at the conference related to the use of existing Ku- and Ka-band spectrum for so-called fixed satellite services for future unmanned aerial vehicles.
The proposal, with determined backing by Germany and the United States, was that UAVs use the same spectrum for long-haul routes that will inevitably be added as civil-aviation agencies assure themselves that UAVs can fly safely in civil airspace.
The decision to approve this use – pending safety and reliability validations by the International Civil Aviation Authority, and with a promise of non-interference with existing ground Earth stations – was riddled with provisos that made it difficult to judge.
Satellite fleet operator Intelsat backed the proposal, having satisfied itself that its global network of satellite Earth stations would not face interference from unmanned vehicles flying over vast territories and broadcasting in the same frequencies.
“This is a coming technology and we believe it can be introduced without undermining our existing business,” said Gonzalo de Dios, Intelsat’s associate general counsel. “It’s true that the final resolution includes lots of provisos, but it’s a good thing that it was adopted. A lot of the opposition to it was based on non-technical arguments.”
Access to C-band by terrestrial networks had been a satellite industry concern since before WRC-07, when many nations said they would allow terrestrial networks into the spectrum.
WRC-15 was seen as a test of whether the satellite industry had, since 2007, made its case for the importance of C-band, or whether the terrestrial side would deliver a coup de grace in the form of a global allocation for their networks.
Francois Rancy, director of the ITU’s Radiocommunication Bureau, said at a Nov. 27 news conference that the added push for terrestrial networks in the 3.4-3.6-gigahertz bands in the Americas, Europe and Africa, plus individual Asia-Pacific nations’ statements, added up to a “nearly global allocation” for terrestrial networks.
The GSM Association, representing terrestrial networks, applauded the increased access to 2.4-3.6 gigahertz in a Nov. 27 statement, saying it came from “strong support from governments in all regions for the global harmonization of 200 megahertz of the C-band, 2.4-3.6 gigahertz, to meet capacity requirements in urban areas.”
De Dios disagreed, saying that the nations and regions added to the pro-terrestrial list at WRC-15 “do not really move the needle” from where the two sides stood after WRC-07. Among the largest commercial satellite fleet operator, Intelsat had been considered as the most exposed to the C-band issue, but de Dios said the company sees no negative effect on its business of the WRC-15 decision.
David Hartshorn, secretary-general of the Global VSAT Forum, one of the organizations leading the pro-satellite lobbying at WRC-15, said Rancy overspoke. “The ITU has only three regions, and one of them – the Asia-Pacific – decided against giving a blanket allocation to terrestrial broadband,” Hartshorn said. “This is far from a global allocation.
“When you look at the results of this conference and compare it to what people were saying before it started, these are very positive developments as more people recognize the value of what satellites provide,” Hartshorn said.