Developments in Aero Connectivity: First Principles
Demand for satellite mobility services is undeniable, and investment in new capacity and more efficient terminal operations is keeping those responsible for allocating spectrum and regulating service busy. While The European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT) has often been ahead of the U.S. FCC in harmonizing “lighter touch” regulation for mobile satellite services, the FCC has recently turned out a number of streamlined regulations easing their adoption. At the international level, by contrast, such deliberations can be driven by a more traditional approach to service definition rather than by analysis of pure technical performance. Because of this, the ready adoption of newer, mobile service in some countries may face risks.
With a number of innovative proposals on the aeronautical satellite services horizon, what should proponents take away from this? In August 2013, the FCC updated the licensing and operating rules for space stations and satellite Earth stations in its most comprehensive review in two decades. Among other things, the FCC sought to streamline approval procedures and permit greater flexibility in demonstrating applicants’ antenna performance to take account of new technologies. One characterization was of a shift from a “tell us how you built it” approach to a “tell us how you avoid interference with your neighbors” approach.
This principle benefitted operators of Earth Stations Aboard Aircraft (ESAA, also known as Aircraft Earth Stations), which was elevated from secondary to primary allocation status in part of the downlink band. A harmonized decision on ESAA has been in place since 2005, recommending exemption for foreign-registered aircraft. Authorizations for national aircraft in Europe have generally been simpler than those in the U.S.
In November, the U.S. FAA took measures affecting in-flight connectivity services, determining that Personal Electronic Devices (PED) could be used in all phases of flight. Within the day, airlines announced the new policy to their customers, and within the month, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) followed suit with its own announcement permitting PEDs in all phases of flight. The UAE, supporting airlines, who were early adopters of in-flight services in the region, similarly removed the prohibition on use below 10,000 feet.
Additionally, at the time of writing, the FCC was also holding a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on regulations regarding in-flight cellular use, now dubbed In-flight Mobile Connectivity (IMC) or Mobile Communications on Aircraft (MCA) in Europe, which has long been permitted internationally.
While satellite has been a key part of the infrastructure for passenger connectivity services on aircraft and remains unchallenged for backhaul over oceans, several new proposals for connectivity would push traditional band use over landmasses. Direct Air-to-Ground (DATG or ATG) terrestrial services are mounting a new challenge: studies are underway in the ITU, as well as in the United States, where the 14 – 14.5 GHz band traditionally used for fixed satellite service (FSS) has been proposed for next generation DATG. In Europe, CEPT is considering proposals in the 1920 MHz, 2010-2025 MHz and 5855-5875 MHz bands for DATG provision.
Also pushing the envelope, a new proposal in CEPT would permit aeronautical complementary ground component (CGC) as a means of providing greater passenger connectivity in the 1980 – 2010 MHz and 2170 – 2200 MHz bands targeted to smaller aircraft.
At the ITU, efforts to formalize a 2011 report on Earth Stations on Moving Platforms (ESOMPs) into a recommendation faced challenges at a recent meeting of ITU Working Party 4A. The challenge was based largely on opposition to defining a mobile service in a fixed satellite service band. While Ka-band ESOMP offerings have been well accepted by many regulators without an ITU recommendation, this may slow adoption in some jurisdictions.
Technical developments often outpace regulation. Still, innovators of the next generation of aero connectivity systems should ensure that the case for technical compatibility and clear service definition is soundly made.