Satellite Industry Benefits From WRC

By | August 25, 2003 | Feature

By Leslie A. Taylor

The 2003 World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-03), concluded on July 4, reached a number of important decisions in the area of satellite communications, benefiting the industry as well as consumers. The International Telecommunication Union-sponsored conference, chaired by Veena Rawat of Canada and attended by more than 2,500 delegates, sorted through more than 33 agenda items. Despite concerns that politics would intrude on the deliberations, the conference was a model of cooperation. Emerging from WRC-03 were many positive results for the satellite industry.

Green Light for Connexion by Boeing: Approval of spectrum and regulations needed to support two-way broadband Internet access on-board airplanes, already implemented by Connexion by Boeing, has immediate benefits for the satellite industry and consumers. Despite initial wrangling over procedural issues, the conference adopted a secondary allocation for the aeronautical mobile satellite service (AMSS) in the 14-14.5 GHz band. Winners: Connexion by Boeing, satellite service providers, and earth station manufacturers including Viasat [Nasdaq: VSAT], which is building terminals for Connexion.

Galileo gets the go-ahead: The conference also adopted additional spectrum allocations in the 1164-1215 MHz band (L5) for the radionavigation satellite service (RNSS) to support Europe’s Galileo system, as well as expansion of GPS. Technical rules and coordination procedures were adopted that carefully balanced the interests of Europe with concerns of the U.S. Department of Defense, the operator of the GPS system. Other countries, including China and Japan, are considering implementation of RNSS systems. Winners: Galileo, GPS, European space industry, manufacturers and users of positioning equipment and services.

More Ku-band spectrum available for VSATs: As satellite usage, particularly with small-diameter earth terminals (VSATs), has grown, there has been increased demand for more spectrum for VSATs. WRC-03 liberalized the use of the 13.75-14 GHz band, permitting earth stations as small as 1.2 meters in diameter with reduced technical restrictions. The U.S. delegation was able to agree to a compromise that supported this expanded use while continuing to protect DOD radar in this band. Winners: fixed-satellite service (FSS) operators such as Intelsat, PanAmSat [Nasdaq: SPOT], SES Global and other VSAT users.

Earth stations aboard vessels: Today, consumers want high-speed telecommunications services everywhere. Many shipboard C- and Ku-band terminals operating with FSS satellites (earth stations aboard vessels) have been deployed. Often, these terminals provide service at lower cost than available through traditional maritime systems such as Inmarsat. WRC- 03 resolved issues concerning coordination of shipboard FSS terminals with terrestrial fixed service in ports. Winners: shipboard telecom users, FSS operators, the U.S. Navy, cruise lines, and earth terminal manufacturers.

Satellite Radio Bandwagon: With the U.S. market success of satellite radio services such as XM Satellite Radio [Nasdaq: XMSR] and Sirius Satellite Radio [Nasdaq: SIRI], other countries want to get in on the action. WRC-03 was drawn into a complex battle between the planned satellite radio system of Toshiba (mobile broadcasting satellite) slated for introduction in 2004 and a proposed system of Hitachi, which would operate in a highly elliptical orbit. As Japan had already committed the available spectrum for the Toshiba geostationary system, Hitachi has struggled to find an accommodation for its system. Thus, Japan proposed that WRC-03 approve the 2310-2360 MHz allocation (now available only in the U.S., Mexico and India) for satellite radio use in Japan. China and Korea opposed this, fearing interference to terrestrial wireless systems. The proposal was dropped and procedural mechanisms were crafted that should allow rollout of the Hitachi system. Winners: consumers of satellite radio in Japan and neighboring countries, and consumer electronic manufacturers.

Mobile Satellite Service Accommodated: Despite the financial difficulties of Iridium and Globalstar, mobile satellite service (MSS) is widely used around the world, and usage grew extensively during the recent Gulf War. WRC-03 adopted 2 X 7 MHz of additional spectrum for MSS use. These new allocations, 1668-1675 MHz (Earth-to-space) and 1518-1525 MHz (space-to-Earth), initially will be most useful for systems such as Inmarsat and Thuraya. WRC-03 called for studies to address mechanisms to protect other services in the band such as aeronautical mobile telemetry (flight testing), which at present precludes use of the new allocations in the United States.

Globalstar and ICO benefited from technical limits on wireless LANs (Wi-Fi) in the 5150-5250 MHz band, where the two systems operate feeder links. Globalstar also gained assured access on a primary basis to the 5091-5150 MHz band, which it uses in conjunction with the 5150-5250 MHz band, until at least 2018. “Little LEOs” – data-only low-Earth orbit satellite services – aren’t dead yet, at least from the spectrum perspective, as WRC-03 decided that additional spectrum around 1.4 GHz could be evaluated for possible Little LEO feeder links. Winners: MSS systems and users, Globalstar, ICO and Final Analysis.

The Rules Are Made To Be …Bent: For years the ITU has attempted to address the so-called “paper satellite” issue whereby numerous filings are made for satellite systems that are not actually deployed. One approach to reduce the number of paper satellites has been strict adherence to deadlines for launching systems. The overall economic environment and other factors has kept some systems, even those under construction, from launching before their ITU deadline. WRC-03 recognized these problems and adopted a launch failure extension rule (sought by Arabsat, which had failed to meet its deadline when its satellite suffered a launch failure). It granted a two-year extension to two United Arab Emirates’ FSS satellites and a three-year extension to one broadcasting satellite service (BSS) satellite of Laos. Winners: Arabsat, UAE, Laos, and investors, satellite manufacturers and users.

Revisions to the Rules Governing the BSS Plans: Many revisions, most of them arcane, were made to the BSS plans. One that impacts current systems and recognizes the evolution of BSS to very small earth stations provides for protection of Region 2’s (the Americas) BSS plan assignments. This decision kept the minimum antenna size at 45 centimeters in the Americas and 60 centimeters in the rest of the world. Some countries had sought to raise the minimum BSS antenna size to 60 centimeters worldwide, a size larger than many of the dishes deployed by direct broadcast satellite (DBS) operators in the United States. Winners: Echostar, DirecTV and other operators of DBS systems.

Unlike past WRCs, WRC-03 did not address the implementation of major new satellite technologies. But its actions in resolving many pending conflicts and technical requirements should prove of benefit to the satellite industry and consumers alike.

Leslie A. Taylor is president of Leslie Taylor Associates, a telecommunications consulting firm in Bethesda, Md. She can be reached at (301) 229-9410 or ltaylor@lta.com.

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