​World radiocommunication conferences (WRC) are held every three to four years. WRC-15 will be held in Geneva Nov. 2-27. Credit: WRC

BRUSSELS — Several of the world’s largest satellite fleet operators appear to have lost their battle to persuade European regulators to keep terrestrial broadband out of their protected spectrum.

At a meeting of global regulators set for November, European governments will propose allowing terrestrial broadband wireless applications into certain frequencies now reserved for satellite telecommunications, a senior European regulator said Jan. 28.

But while delivering the bad news to the satellite industry for the lower part of the C-band spectrum, Eric Fournier, chairman of the Electronic Communications Committee at the 48-nation CEPT grouping of European regulators, said the upper part of the spectrum likely will be preserved for satellite use only.

After confirming what, for satellite interests, was bad news, Fournier said CEPT has adopted other positions favorable to the satellite sector, including:

  •  A proposal to extend the use of X-band by 100 megahertz on both the uplink and downlink to meet demand from military communications satellites, which Fournier said “has a good chance” to be adopted by global regulators.
  • A CEPT move to extend commercial satellite operators’ access to Ku-band, by 250 megahertz on both uplink and downlink. Military aeronautical mobile applications are resisting the extension on the uplink, and for now there is no common European position. “We are still discussing this,” Fournier said.
  • A proposal to double the X-band used by radar Earth observation satellites, which can lead to higher-resolution imagery. Germany, Italy and Spain operate or are building radar satellite systems for commercial and military use.

Copernicus Avoids WiFi Threat

In addition, Fournier said a threat from WiFi interests that could have compromised the performance of Europe’s Copernicus environment-monitoring Sentinel satellites has been avoided.

Fournier said CEPT’s technical committee had demonstrated to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the Geneva-based United Nations agency that assigns radio spectrum and satellite orbital slots, that the 5-gigahertz radio frequencies to be used by Copernicus satellites could not coexist with WiFi applications.

“We concluded that, from a technical point of view, WiFi uses in this band would interfere with Copernicus,” Fournier said at the 7th Annual Conference on European Space Policy. “This conclusion has been endorsed, and for the upcoming WRC conference the proposal on the table is: No Change. Copernicus will remain alone in this frequency.”

The ITU’s quadrennial World Radiocommunication Conference is scheduled for November in Geneva. It is at these month-long WRC conferences that new spectrum rights are granted and established rights are withdrawn as regulators allocate a finite resource to a fast-moving telecommunications and communications industry.

 C-Band Battle

With the variety of satellite frequency bands that can be used, designations have been developed so that they can be referred to easily. Because of satellites’ increased use, number and size, congestion has become a serious issue in the lower frequency bands. Credit: ESA graphic
With the variety of satellite frequency bands that can be used, designations have been developed so that they can be referred to easily. Because of satellites’ increased use, number and size, congestion has become a serious issue in the lower frequency bands. Credit: ESA graphic

The C-band struggle is not new. At each WRC, representatives of terrestrial wireless broadband backers seek to break the hold of satellites on a portion of C-band, which the terrestrial interests claim they need to meet surging demand.

There are studies suggesting that no such need exists or has been exaggerated. But the battle continues and ITU officials in recent months have said that satellite operators’ exclusive hold on the 3.4-3.8-gigahertz portion of the band is slipping and is likely to end at this year’s WRC.

CEPT’s position has been questioned by satellite fleet operators, who have complained that the organization has not made it clear to Asian, African and Latin American nations that the C-band situation in Europe is very different from theirs.

Fournier said CEPT is holding the line at 3.8 gigahertz, and that the satellite exclusivity between 3.8 and 4.2 gigahertz will be preserved.

Francois Rancy, head of the ITU’s Radiocommunication Bureau, said during a Jan. 14 space policy conference in Paris that he too thought the fight by satellite operators for the lower part of C-band was likely to be lost.

But Rancy said the upper part of the band seemed secure for satellites, especially since terrestrial broadband wireless networks make extensive use of satellites to carry their signals from rural and other unconnected regions back to the terrestrial grid. “They’d been shooting themselves in the foot” if they went after the upper portion of C-band, Rancy said.

Michel de Rosen, chief executive of satellite fleet operator Eutelsat of Paris and president of the European Satellite Operators Association, said Jan. 27 that satellite operators are not surrendering the lower part of C-band as they prepare their battle plans for November’s WRC.

“Very clearly there is something at stake for you – some threats,” Fournier said, addressing an audience including satellite operators.

One reason that C-band is so widely used in emerging markets is that it is less susceptible to signal degradation in heavy rain. Fournier acknowledged this and suggested that Europe’s position is not for everyone. He said that in Europe some nations would prefer that the entire C-band spectrum be opened to terrestrial wireless networks.

“We have to keep in mind that we are in the European Union, with a need to balance the interests of both the mobile broadband and satellite industries,” Fournier said. “That’s why we have difficult discussions.”

In his speech here – at the headquarters of the European Commission at a conference with many commission attendees – de Rosen reminded the audience that the European Satellite Operators Association includes the world’s four largest fleet operators – SES, Intelsat, Eutelsat and Inmarsat. All of them have sizable commercial interests in places where, unlike in Europe, C-band remains a prime communications link.


Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.