Hartshorn: ‘A Matter Of Life Or Death’

The Global VSAT Forum is playing a vital role in promoting satellite’s arguments in the C-band debate. The  association of key companies involved in elivering  digital fixed satellite systems and services to consumers, commercial and government enterprises, has  stepped up in terms of C-band and continues to be a strong presence promoting satellite interests here. David Hartshorn, secretary general, Global VSAT Forum, tells Via Satellite why the potential loss of spectrum could be a matter “of life and death" for the satellite industry.

Via Satellite: What is your take on the demands for C-band spectrum resources and the competing arguments of telecoms and satellite players? Can the two sides reach a compromise?

Hartshorn: There are two critical issues in play right now: Communications companies and governments throughout the world have been reporting numerous incidents where satellite telecom and broadcasting services are being severely disrupted by interference from terrestrial wireless services in the “extended” and standard C-band frequencies – 3.4 to 4.2 gigahertz. Meanwhile, major terrestrial-wireless interests are lobbying for C-band spectrum to be reallocated for next-generation broadband wireless access and IMT 2000 services to the exclusion of satellite services. If these efforts are successful, it would represent a loss of billions of dollars per year and a severe blow to the millions of users that have come to depend upon C-band satellite services throughout the world.

Is there a middle ground? Our organization has held extensive discussions with the WiMax Forum in an effort to come to a mutual understanding of this issue and, surprisingly, there is not much disagreement regarding compatibility. Indeed, our organizations agree that adjacent operation of satellite and terrestrial-wireless services in C-band will cause unacceptable levels of interference. Independent tests conducted by various governments have also reached the same conclusion.

Further, there is a growing recognition by national administrations that various techniques proposed to mitigate this interference — shielding, filters, 150-kilometer exclusion zones, and so on — are completely impractical both from a financial and a logistical standpoint. This is largely because there are millions of satellite earth stations operating at C-band throughout the world. The sheer scale and density of these system deployments precludes the application of shielding, filters or exclusion zones. Terrestrial-wireless interests need to pursue spectrum other than C-band.
 

Via Satellite: What would be the ramifications for developing countries if this C-Band capacity was assigned to terrestrial mobile players rather than satellite?

Hartshorn: The sad irony is that next-generation terrestrial wireless is going to need C-band satellite services in much the same way that current mobile terrestrial operators do. GSM and other mobile operators depend on C-band satellite services to establish backhaul links from remote base stations to the public switched network. And this need is particularly acute in nations where there is high rainfall density. Many of the developing countries of the world fit into this category.

So the first ramification would be that the terrestrial-wireless industry’s services would be unable to reach subscribers in remote areas of developing countries. Second, if the satellite industry was prevented from using C-band, they would also be rendered unable to deliver new solutions to those areas. And third, the C-band satellite services that are currently being provided to remote areas of developing countries would be interrupted, and users would be left without a solution.

It should be noted that, in recent years, some of the largest deployments of VSAT services have been for users in developing countries. For example, more than 125,000 university students in Brazil are being educated right now via satellite. The African Virtual University links more than a dozen academic institutions across the continent. Many thousands of primary and secondary students are being educated via satellite throughout Mexico at more than 60,000 locations. And those are just a few of the educational programs being supported by satellite.

At the same time, governments are implementing ambitious communications policies that will require delivery of a broad range of C-band satellite services: Tele-health, rural tele-centers, disaster relief, cyber cafes, post offices, air traffic control, fiber restoration, small and medium enterprises, oil & gas concerns, mining, forestry, banking and other financial services. … The very fabric of society in developing countries is being enabled by these satellite services. 

Via Satellite: How likely is it that satellite players are going to lose some of this C-band capacity?

Hartshorn: The only certainty is uncertainty. However, in preparation for the World Radiocommunication Conference, national administrations are now demonstrating their appreciation for the seriousness of the issue, as well as their commitment to preserving access to C-band satellite services.

In the Americas, for example, there is a growing list of nations that have officially confirmed their support for C-band satellite services. In Asia, national administrations such as India, Pakistan and Malaysia have postponed implementation of spectrum re-allocations that would have adversely impacted on C-band satellite services. The Arab region is also strongly against interruption of C-band satellite services. And in Africa – where NigComSat, the region’s first indigenous C-band satellite program was launched a few weeks ago – policy makers and regulators have elevated this matter on their agenda.

Terrestrial-wireless interests will continue to use their muscle to try to gain access to the spectrum. These are some of the largest telecom companies in the world, some of which have been lobbying governments in developing countries for at least five years. Our organization was fighting against these efforts in Developing Countries as far back as 2001. The fight isn’t finished.

Via Satellite: How is interference affecting satellite players, and what can be done to resolve this?

Hartshorn: The impact is huge: There are approximately 160 satellites in the geostationary orbit that support operations at frequencies in the range 3400-4200 megahertz. Manufacturers have invested heavily to make state-of-the-art earth stations available. And their customers — the international user community — have been procuring C-band solutions in high volumes for decades.

What can be done to resolve this? In the final countdown before WRC, GVF and a growing number of supporting organizations have been working very hard to counter the threat to fixed and mobile C-band satellite services. A Global Satellite Industry Position Paper has been established and is being distributed to governments and user groups in all regions, and endorsements have been secured from GVF, the Cable & Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia, the Asia-Pacific Satellite Communications Council, the European Satellite Operators’ Association, Europe’s Satellite Action Plan-Regulatory Working Group, the World Teleport Association, the Satellite Users Interference Reduction Group (SUIRG) and the U.S. Satellite Industry Association among others.

Events activities are also being applied to heighten awareness of the issue. For example, GVF and the Inter-American Telecommunications Commission recently held a  forum via the World Bank’s Global Distance Learning Network, with videoconference links established with six key national administrations throughout the Americas – and with live Webcasting provided for every nation in the world.

Further, the Second Annual C-band Satellite Summit is scheduled to be held on 24 September in London on the day preceding the VSAT 2007 Conference, where government and private-sector executives will meet to address the issue and make final WRC preparations.

Meanwhile, coordination is underway with the WiMax Forum — which has invited GVF to address their annual general meeting in Spain this summer — and dozens of other event activities have also been held or planned. To coordinate future programs, a strategic global calendar has been established to ensure as much advocacy as possible between now and WRC. Complementing these activities are published articles that have already begun to appear in publications throughout the world. And GVF is working with SUIRG and the WiMax Forum to conduct further testing.

To help coordinate these activities, the GVF Regulatory Working Group holds monthly conference calls, during which the latest status and plans are addressed. More support is needed in order to assure the most successful possible outcome for the C-band crisis. The terrestrial-wireless industry casts a very long shadow. GVF calls upon your organization for support to enable us to effectively achieve our shared objectives.

Via Satellite: Why do you think satellite players should keep all of the C-Band spectrum?

Hartshorn: The stakes are high in the extreme. If private- and public-sector organizations fail to address this trend, the satellite industry may be prevented from delivering millions of existing and potential users — not only in emerging regions, but also in developed countries — with fixed and mobile satellite services for voice, data and video services. In the U.S. alone, there are 11,000 cable headends that rely upon C-band satellite services.

Since the International Telecommunication Union originally allocated C-band for delivery of services by the global satellite industry, our sector has delivered on its promise, with a massive deployment of solutions worldwide. Continued refinements in technology, regulation and other factors now bring C-band satellite services to an even broader range of user groups, many of whom are among the most desperately disadvantaged in the world. C-band satellite services hold the power to improve standards of economic vitality, education, health, disaster preparedness. … Not to put too fine a point on it, but for many users preservation of the band for delivery of satellite services is literally a matter of life and death.   

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