UK grants Starlink and Telesat NGSO licenses

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TAMPA, Fla. — The United Kingdom gave SpaceX permission Nov. 10 to expand its Starlink satellite broadband network in the country, while also granting a license to Telesat for a competing constellation bound for non-geostationary orbit (NGSO).

SpaceX got approval from British regulator Ofcom to increase the number of NGSO gateways in the U.K. from three to nine, enabling Starlink to add more capacity and improve network redundancy in the country.

Ofcom granted Canada’s Telesat a license to connect broadband terminals in the U.K. to its planned Lightspeed NGSO constellation, slated to launch commercially in 2026 at the earliest.

Starlink and British startup OneWeb already have licenses allowing them to connect U.K.-based user terminals from NGSO, although SpaceX is currently the only gateway license holder operating there.

Mangata Networks, a U.S. satellite broadband startup founded by a former OneWeb executive, recently applied for a U.K. license to connect user terminals to an NGSO constellation it plans to launch commercially by 2025.

Mangata and Telesat expect to use Ka-band spectrum for their user terminals and gateways. Starlink and OneWeb use Ka-band for gateways and Ku-band for the links to customer antennas.

Ofcom is reviewing a public consultation on Mangata’s license request as part of a new licensing process for the regulator.

Regulation revamp

SpaceX is the first company to receive a license under this strengthened NGSO licensing regime.

A consultation process was not part of the approval process for Starlink’s initial three gateways.

Ofcom said Nov. 10 it is also continuing to review how it manages spectrum used by the space sector.

In a space spectrum strategy document, the regulator outlined plans to “consider providing access to more spectrum to enable the delivery of higher speed satellite broadband services to more businesses and people.”

The plans include a consultation on proposals to license gateways in higher frequency Q and V-band spectrum in 2023-2024.

Ofcom will also consider options for authorizing gateways in even higher frequency spectrum in E-band, although it said “there are fewer operators seeking access” to these frequencies compared to Q and V-band.

E-band technology is also less mature, “and the international regulatory framework needs further development at these frequencies,” Ofcom added, making it too early to say whether it could consult on proposals to use the spectrum band in 2023-2024.

Starlink and OneWeb have secured permission to add V-band payloads to their fleets from the United States, which also recently announced plans to shake up its satellite licensing procedures

Higher frequency bands promise more bandwidth and throughput for satellite operators — and more technical challenges amid compounding weather attenuation and other issues.