That Time When Satellite Operators Joined to Defend Spectrum - From our Archive

In 2007, Via Satellite awarded its Satellite Executive of the Year honors to three leading spectrum executives from operators Intelsat, Inmarsat and SES for crafting a unified message that helped preserve C-band spectrum access for the industry. Ten years later, Intelsat and Intel have made waves with a joint FCC proposition that opens the door to sharing C-band spectrum with mobile operators. Looking back to our 2007 SEOTY award winners explains some of the history behind the strong response to the proposal.

Kengi Chen Inmarsat, Kalpak Gude Intelsat, John Lothian SES

Kengi Chen, director spectrum management and operations planning at Inmarsat; Kalpak Gude, vice president regulatory affairs at Intelsat; and John Lothian, vice president of space development at SES Global.

The satellite industry’s use of C-band spectrum faced a serious threat in 2007, but a well-organized effort involving satellite players around the globe fended off terrestrial companies seeking a foothold in the band. The executives that led the industry’s “No Change” campaign helped ensure that satellite operators will have unfettered access to this critical band for years to come.

The satellite industry scored a victory at the World Radiocommunication Conference 2007 (WRC-07), turning back efforts by international mobile telecommunications (IMT) players seeking a global allocation of C-band spectrum. At one point, the push by the well-funded terrestrial players looked like it would be successful, but led by Kengi Chen, director, spectrum management and operational planning for Inmarsat; Kalpak Gude, deputy general counsel at Intelsat; and John Lothian, vice president, space development at SES, the satellite industry argued successfully that the damage to satellite operations outweighed the benefit for terrestrial players.

The scope and complexity of this effort involved representatives from companies around the globe, and the task of keeping the different satellite-related companies unified in their message and organized through the months leading up to WRC-07 and throughout the meeting was a gargantuan one.

Chen, Gude and Lothian discussed the creation of the “No Change” campaign and the month-long effort at WRC-07 with Via Satellite Editor Jason Bates and Associate Editor Mark Holmes.

VIA SATELLITE: When were you first aware of the potential threat posed to the industry’s use of C-band?

Chen: We have known since WRC-03 when an agenda item aiming to identify new spectrum for terrestrial IMT was agreed for WRC-07. From the start of the process, C-band was one of the candidate bands put forward. The industry started working on the issue from the beginning; however, the efforts were stepped up closer to the WRC as it became clear that C-band was being seriously considered by the IMT industry.

Gude: To be honest, though, the industry as a whole did not take the issue too seriously because we thought that the terrestrial wireless industry was primarily focused on other bands and because we believed governments understood the implications of identifying C-band for IMT. We were wrong on both accounts. The lower portion of the C-band was seriously identified by IMT and some countries, particularly in Europe, Japan and Korea, had identified the entire C-band for IMT.

Lothian: We were aware of the WRC agenda item since WRC-03. However, the responsibility for this issue had been placed in ITU Working Group 8F, which was dominated by supporters of IMT. Only a small number of satellite supporters were active in this committee. However the committee was responsible for carrying out the sharing studies between mobile and satellite services. Soon the word spread around and other satellite operators joined us in this ITU activity.

VIA SATELLITE: How hard was it to coordinate the efforts?

Chen: Individual efforts started soon after the WRC-03, although the industry effectively started working in a coordinated way one year prior to the WRC-07. Initial phase actions included coordinated active participation in ITU-R/Regional Study Groups and Regional Conference Preparatory Groups, individual discussions with key administrations and industry stakeholders, and detailed studies and testing of IMT operation impact on the C-band. The magnitude of the challenge led the satellite players to conclude that only a coordinated effort would achieve a successful outcome at the WRC.

Lothian: In January 2006, a meeting of Working Party 8F was held in Bangkok. There were 200 participants of which only four came from the FSS community — SES, Asiasat, and Alcatel (now Thales) Alenia Space. … At this time the main technical argument was about the sharing studies — whichever way you looked at it, sharing appeared to be impossible. However the response of IMT proponents seemed to be: “Don’t confuse us with facts.” I think this experience triggered the mobilization of our joint forces. It became very clear that we would need to embark on a lobbying campaign, in particular to warn administrations in Africa, Asia and Latin America — countries which depend very much on C-band FSS for their core infrastructure.

VIA SATELLITE: When did you settle on a unified message?

Chen: I don’t think the message was unified from day one. Our interest was in a specific part of the C-band since we don’t operate in the complete band. However, as we progressed, it became clear that even having part of the band allocated for global IMT could potentially impact the entire band.

Gude: It was not always clear that “No Change” across the entire band was going to be the correct strategy to use or the one most likely to be successful. I think we realized that if we didn’t hang together, we would hang alone. That was very much the case in terms of keeping a strong African voice on our side and keeping Vietnam and other Asian companies within the satellite coalition. The “No Change” campaign was really the result of our collective effort to find common ground and a common purpose.

Lothian: Several times people would ask, “Are we asking for too much to defend the whole band — 3.4 to 4.2,” but I think it was right to do that. It kept everybody on board the satellite side. As we learned during the conference, the new C-band entrants in Africa were going to operate in the extended band, so if we had drawn a line and partitioned the lower part, we would have lost that support.

VIA SATELLITE: Was there ever a point where you felt the terrestrial players were too big and had too much financial muscle and would use this to gain access to this spectrum?

Chen: Throughout the campaign we recognized the huge influence and financial strength of the telecom players supporting the identification of the C-band for IMT, but we also knew that the significant contributions made by satellite communications in many different areas was a compelling reason to vote for a “No Change” in C-band allocation.

Gude: I think there was some concern that this may be the case but there were three things that were strongly in our favor: First, the technical studies strongly supported our view that sharing of the band was not technically feasible. Second, the services provided by the satellite industry in the C-band are critical services that could not be provided using any other technology or frequency band. Third, and finally, we had no other choice but to carry the fight forward. This band is critical to the satellite industry and our customers and we felt that our backs were against the wall. We did everything we could to get our message out to government regulators, our customers and others.

VIA SATELLITE: When do you think the tide turned in you favor?

Gude: It became most apparent at the Conference Preparatory Meeting in February of 2007. At that point it was clear that the satellite industry had established a beachhead with many countries in Africa and Asia who were highly dependant upon C-band satellite services due to either their high rain zones, their sparse and distributed populations, or both. This support gave the satellite industry a sense that we were starting to get our message across and that we had a chance to save satellite services in the C-band.

Lothian: I would say that we entered the conference knowing we had a strong case but aware that four weeks is a long time and all kinds of unexpected things can happen. As the C-band issue filtered down from the plenary meeting to the committees and subcommittees a number of administrations were actively supporting the “No Change” position, and halfway through the conference there was still no agreed terms of reference for a drafting group on C-band. … An advisory group made it quite clear that there was no possibility of reaching agreement on a global, or even regional, identification for IMT in C-band. The only way out of the impasse would be for administrations to accept country footnotes and for such footnotes to be limited to an upper frequency of 3.6 gigahertz. This compromise was based on a very constructive African proposal led by Senegal and illustrates the crucial role played by a small number of key administrations. This I would say was the turning point.

VIA SATELLITE: When did you know you had won?

Chen: We had an idea that it was going well during some earlier sessions, but we did not know for sure until the very end of the conference when the plenary took the final decision.

Gude: Not until the last day of the conference. We were very concerned that with the conference chairman being from France and with him already taking a very public pro-IMT position, our position may not win the day despite the support we had. We were very pleased that those fears were unnecessary and that the chairman played his role fairly to let the results reflect the mood of the conference.

VIA SATELLITE: Has the C-band episode been a wake-up call to the industry?

Chen: We have never been complacent about the threat of loss of spectrum for satellite. There has always been pressure on regulators to squeeze more users into the radio spectrum and the satellite industry has always had to argue for and justify its spectrum usage, and we will continue to do so in the future. The outcome of the WRC has probably been more of a wake-up call for the terrestrial mobile industry than for the satellite industry. This is the first time in all the WRCs I have attended that such a large part of the satellite industry joined forces to achieve a common goal.

Lothian: I would say there is quite a history of collaboration among satellite operators in the spectrum and regulatory field, and the various industry associations do a marvelous job in lobbying for better licensing conditions and generally enhancing the role of satellite in the world. What happened with the C-band campaign was that we were able to leverage all those resources on a high-profile issue. It has been a wake-up call in the sense that the message is now loud and clear — we are fighting for spectrum in competition with emerging terrestrial wireless services, both to keep our existing operations intact as well as to grow our own new services including mobile and broadband.

Associations Play Key Role In Outcome

The success of the “No Change” campaign largely is due to how the industry pulled together. The campaign coordinated its activities through the Satellite Informal Group, which included satellite operators, national regulators, trade associations, equipment vendors, non-governmental organizations and consultants meeting nearly every day during the conference to develop a common strategy.

Greg Francis of Access Partnership organized and chaired the group. “Any campaign requires that people believe in your case, so the C-band team had to spend a full year on the road in the run up to the WRC explaining the industry’s perspective and making the case for ‘No Change,’” he says. “In the end though, the unity, cooperation and almost parliamentary discipline of the industry was the key ingredient.”

Francis’ “skills perfectly complemented those of our spectrum experts, and his competence and quiet confidence went a long way towards maintaining the team spirit,” says Lothian. “We are indebted to David Hartshorn for marshalling the industry response, which played a major role in raising consciousness of the problem, energizing the Global VSAT Forum to become a major component of the campaign. “We were also assisted by other very able consultants, including Don Jansky in the United States and Linden Petzer in South Africa.

But this is not the end of the story. “Our industry is right to be proud of its accomplishments at WRC-07, but that achievement represented only the first phase of the campaign,” says Hartshorn. “The next step, which has been launched as the Spectrum Security Initiative, has three objectives: Dissuading governments and operators from deploying IMT services at C-band; enforcing WRC-07’s strict restrictions for those IMT operators who do choose to deploy at C-band; and making sure that all satellite spectrum is protected in the future.”

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