SUIRG: Satellite Players Must Keep C-Band

The Satellite Users Interference Reduction Group (SUIRG) is an important voice for the satellite industry in the C-band debate. The organization is dedicated to combating the increasing and costly problem of satellite radio frequency interference, a key issue if telecoms and satellite players are operating in the same frequency band. SUIRG CEO Bob Ames tells Via Satellite why satellite operators must keep C-Band spectrum.

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

Ames: Fixed satellite services (FSS) have been a major player in the telecommunications world for the past four decades, heavily relying on C-band spectrum for the distribution of lifeline connectivity and vital communications services across the world. An extensive hardware deployment representing billions of dollars worth of investment by satellite operators and users is in place today in support of FSS communications in C-band. Contrary to terrestrial systems, which can be modified post deployment to accommodate changes in the regulatory environment, satellites, once in orbit, cannot be altered.  Thus, regulatory stability is essential for the survival and growth of the communications satellite industry.

The sizable upfront investment required to design, procure, launch and operate a satellite would be at great risk if portions of the used frequencies become unavailable for FSS after a satellite becomes operational. In this respect, identifying portions of the C-band for use by international mobile telecommunications (IMT) systems would create considerable instability in the regulatory environment for satellite communications. This could, in the long term, deter future investments in satellite communications as operators, fearful that spectrum will become unavailable during the lifetime of a new satellite, will be unable to successfully market new or even replacement inventory.

This harmful impact will be felt beyond just the satellite industry. The telecommunications industry as a whole, with its otherwise competing technologies such as fiber, cable and cellular, relies heavily on satellite communications for the distribution of services such as cellular backhaul, cable restoration, disaster recovery and cable headend.

On the other hand, IMT advanced and broadband wireless access (BWA) systems, including WiMax, are relatively new players. In fact, much of the spectrum previously identified for IMT-2000 systems is yet to be used in several countries. This begs the question: Is identifying additional spectrum for IMT advanced systems premature? 

Nevertheless, if the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is to identify spectrum for future mobile phone networks that include IMT Advanced, 4G and others, spectrum other than the full standard C-band would be more appropriate for that purpose. Since systems located in the same area cannot use common or even adjacent frequencies, BWA and IMT operating in the C-band would significantly impact FSS operations. Identifying the C-band for BWA/IMT use would amount to substituting satellite technology with a non-equivalent technology that has a much lesser reach. Furthermore, buildout costs associated with coverage of distributed populations where cell sites are built based on distance rather than usage is substantially higher.

Expansion of the global ICT infrastructure would be best served when emerging services are implemented in a way to complement, rather than substitute or interfere with, existing satellite services. Use of the FSS C-band for WiMax/BWA services clearly does not achieve this goal, especially since WiMax devices transmit at a relatively high level, which causes LNA/B saturation and service interruption on nearby earth stations. The problem is exacerbated by the lack of available information on C-band earth station deployment since receive-only earth stations are usually not registered with telecommunication authorities. 

Via Satellite: One of the arguments of satellite players that is being overshadowed is the importance of C-band in developing countries for providing basic communications. What would be the ramifications for these territories if this C-band capacity was assigned to terrestrial mobile players rather than satellite?

Ames: The problem extends beyond developing countries. C-band service is critical to countries in the equator region where extensive rain fade makes the use of Ku-band impractical. If WiMax services are allowed to fully develop in these regions, satellite services become severely limited.

We can provide a real-life example of the impact. Last year Bolivia rolled out a test WiMax network timed with the start of World Cup soccer. The interference from the WiMax system impacted about 30 percent of households in Bolivia receiving World Cup coverage via satellite. Needless to say, this resulted in an outcry that led to the immediate termination of the WiMax testing.

In a worst-case scenario, the following are examples of services that would be severely impacted: TV broadcast to cable networks, TV broadcast to individual receivers, VSAT networks, Internet providers, point-to-multipoint links, satellite newsgathering, communication for ships, disaster relief, private enterprise networks and government communications services.

Via Satellite: Will the satellite industry be able to retain this spectrum?

Ames: There are approximately 160 geostationary satellites globally providing FSS C-band service. This is obviously a very significant investment in equipment and services. With so much at stake for the satellite community, SUIRG anticipates an aggressive — and successful — lobbying effort by the industry to protect the C-band spectrum.

Via Satellite: Can the two sides reach a compromise to share the spectrum?

Ames: A good example of the case for protecting the C-band spectrum comes in response to the “exclusion zone” in the proposal for WiMax implementation. The proposal suggests a minimum 150-kilometer “exclusion zone” around operational earth stations where WiMax devices would not be allowed to operate so as not to interfere with the earth station. However, if you have an earth station in New York City and another in Washington, DC, both establishing a 300-wide wide exclusion zone, the limitation on WiMax coverage would span the east coast from Connecticut to southern Virginia.

Via Satellite: What are the key talking points for the satellite industry?

Ames: The key points to the satellite argument are the significant investment made by the industry, the reliance for critical communications, and the geographical [and] environmental limitations that make C-band the only viable spectrum in parts of the world. C-band satellite services have been in existence for over 40 years now. The impact of losing spectrum would be disastrous.

It seems that the WiMax issue is driven forward with a focus on the financial rewards without taking into consideration the technical concerns. For the satellite community, however, we have to keep our focus on the technical concerns. That’s the only way to ensure that our industry doesn’t fall into financial disaster.

Via Satellite: What role can SUIRG play in this debate and lobbying process?

Ames: SUIRG has a membership base of 33 organizations covering most of the major international satellite operators, many smaller regional operators plus user and equipment vendor organizations. In addition, SUIRG actively collaborates with many other satellite industry trade associations to petition local administrations plus the ITU and European Community (EC). As an example, in May, SUIRG and eight other trade associations representing over 400 companies worldwide with a combined revenue in excess of 66 billion euros, sent a letter to the EC Commissioners. Our letter urged the EC to oppose the preliminary European proposal to WRC-07 to open any part of the C-band for terrestrial mobile technologies such as IMT.

Via Satellite: What is going to happen over the rest of the year, and is the satellite industry’s position stronger now than it has been throughout the last few months?

Ames: Within the next several months, SUIRG, with the assistance of the U.S. Navy Navsea, SES New Skies, SES Americom, Intelsat, [the Global VSAT Forum] and AsiaSat will be performing a field test where WiMax certified hub and subscriber units will be tested to provide quantifiable data of interference into a C-band earth station. AsiaSat conducted a similar test in 2006. We anticipate that the results from this next field test will provide additional quantifiable results. 

Since the potential impact is significant, it is no surprise that the WiMax issue is being discussed extensively within the global satellite community. Satellite industry associations are taking strong action and pressing the case to oppose sharing of the C-band spectrum to the EC and ITU.

Interestingly, the WiMax Forum recently issued a report questioning if WiMax and satellite services can coexist. If you Google WiMax, you’ll get 22 million hits. The majority of those discuss upcoming implementations and the benefits of WiMax. No question about it, the satellite industry has its work cut out for it. 

Via Satellite: If we are having this conversation in early 2008, what do you expect to have happened?

Ames: SUIRG hopes that by 2008 this issue will be resolved with WiMax becoming a valid service operating in a frequency spectrum other than C-band.

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