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Global VSAT Review: Less Is More (More Or Less)

By | February 10, 2001

      by David Hartshorn

      If last year is any indication, 2001 is going to be a milestone for the fixed satellite services industry.

      Today the industry finds itself at the pivotal point of several trends, including the convergence of telecom and broadcasting, the emergence of IP and DVB and the recognition by the regulatory community that facilitating VSAT-based solutions is a matter of national interest.

      This recognition was reflected in a number of breakthroughs which, on balance, demonstrate that regulators increasingly realize that imposing fewer regulatory requirements results in more access to satellite-based communications which, in turn, generates new business, creates jobs, yields higher export earnings, and attracts foreign investment.

      The following are a sampling of reforms that are supported by the Global VSAT Forum and are being implemented around the world:

      *Blanket Licensing: Traditionally, most governments have required each individual VSAT terminal to be licensed; this was in addition to requiring a network operator’s license. But there is increasing interest in so-called “blanket licensing.”

      With this approach, certain classes of VSATs are configured based upon technical criteria that eliminates the risk of unreasonable interference. Thus, a single blanket license can be issued covering an unlimited number of VSAT terminals.

      This approach has worked well in the United States which, despite having one of the most highly developed fiber-optic infrastructures in the world, is also home to the largest installed base of VSAT networks.

      However, the United States isn’t the only country to adopt blanket licensing. Indeed, 43 European nations last year adopted a policy principle that provides for blanket licensing of receive-only and interactive VSAT terminals.

      The policy was adopted through the regional Conference of European Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT) and is now being implemented by individual national administrations.

      *Transparency: Huge amounts of time, money and effort are spent each year by the communications industries of every country in an attempt to determine which regulations apply to VSAT-based systems and services. This problem–often referred to as a lack of “transparency”–is so severe that in many cases the service provider gives up, or worse, commits to provide service only to learn later about an obscure regulation that leaves everyone involved in a compromised position.

      The solution? Governments around the world have begun prominently posting all such data on a Web site. For example, the countries of South, Central and North America have begun to develop a VSAT licensing database that includes licensing requirements for each administration. The database, which is administered by the member states of the Inter-American Telecommunications Commission (CITEL), can be seen at

      Meanwhile, the European governments are in the process of going even further. A database is being developed by the CEPT that will include the satellite-licensing data for each of 43 administrations at

      In the second phase of the European program, applicants visiting the Web site will be able to apply for licenses in any combination of European countries using a single electronic application form.

      *Type Approvals: Type approval of telecom terminals has long been recognized by national administrations as a problem. Testing requirements from country to country are often redundant, resulting in major delays, higher costs and less efficient provision of communications.

      That’s why the members of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation group (APEC) signed a Mutual Recognition Agreement to facilitate the elimination of redundant type approval testing. And that’s why CITEL is currently moving toward adoption of a similar regime for South, Central and North America.

      Further, last year, European Community legislation was implemented that now eliminates government-type approvals of VSAT and other telecom terminals. This change came with the Radio and Telecommunications Terminal Equipment Directive 1999/5/EC (the “R&TTE Directive”), which introduces a system based on manufacturers’ declaration and relaxation of the regulatory constraints on the free movement and putting into use of terminal equipment.

      *Open Skies: In the past, governments developed policies to protect their country’s satellite systems. These “Closed Skies” policies require service providers to use only locally owned satellite capacity when providing VSAT services. The “Open Skies” approach is gradually being adopted by administrations in every major global region.

      Governments are realizing that tremendous demand for Internet, data, voice, video and other essential services is best addressed by policies that permit open access to all satellite resources, assuming that they have been properly coordinated through the International Telecommunication Union.

      While the policies being implemented around the world today are not completely open, they all involve permitting increased access to orbital resources, regardless of the satellite operators’ country of origin.

      Even so, much work remains to be done. The global satellite policy trend is clearly driven by a recognition that, where regulations governing the provision of VSAT-based communications are concerned, less is definitely more.

      David Hartshorn is the Secretary General of the Global VSAT Forum. For more information, e-mail:

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