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FCC Responds To Trend For Hybrid Services

By | February 9, 2004

      Hybrid services are changing the shape of the satellite industry and causing a ripple effect in the regulatory arena. Satellite, wireless, wireline, Wi-Fi, and fiber-optic cable technologies are being used to form various combinations of hybrid networks and services. As a result, the distinctions of the past when an individual company focused on one technology or another are fading.

      Intelsat, PanAmSat [Nasdaq: SPOT] and other satellite operators are buying or partnering with companies that offer fiber or other networking capabilities to supplement their core satellite businesses. The trend seems to be accelerating and it is likely to continue unabated in the future. Ultimately, the survivors may well be those that use a host of technologies rather than just one.

      The trend is posing a challenge for regulators. A case in point is in the United States, where the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is trying to adapt to the change. The agency is attempting to address licensing requests from companies seeking to go beyond the traditional use of satellite technology and bandwidth. Their intent is to provide consumers with exciting new services.

      Don Abelson, chief of the FCC’s International Bureau, said growing interest exists at his agency to demonstrate flexibility in spectrum management decisions. One example is for the FCC to encourage secondary markets to use spectrum already assigned to others for primary use, he added.

      “I know that the [FCC] chairman’s goal is to let innovators and individuals deliver the services they want, when they want … whether the spectrum is used for fixed data services or mobile voice services, video distribution services or home networking,” Abelson said.

      Tom Tycz, chief of the FCC International Bureau’s Satellite Policy Division, last week told a gathering of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the Society of Satellite Professionals International (SSPI) that Connexion by Boeing is trying to use spectrum in an innovative way. Connexion by Boeing is preparing to introduce an in-flight mobile satellite service (MSS) that would rely on spectrum in a band traditionally used for fixed satellite services (FSS).

      “Distinctions between the types of services and the bands they use are getting blurred,” Tycz said in a follow-up interview. Applications from satellite companies interested in providing novel services need to be fit into domestic and international regulatory frameworks, he added.

      Industry innovation and expanding consumer demand increasingly are challenging traditional definitions and distinctions of satellite services and spectrum bands. Regulators have responded not only by creating secondary markets for spectrum bands but also by granting waivers and taking other measures to accommodate additional users.

      An impetus for the change is industry’s interest in providing the least costly and most effective services. One example is the creation of hybrid systems that combine satellite and Wi-Fi. Another is the development of satellite and fiber networks.

      Yet another example is Connexion by Boeing, which this year will become the world’s first commercial provider of high-speed Internet access on airliners. The company also recently announced plans to offer the service to the maritime industry (SN, Jan. 26, p. 1).

      The ultimate objective for Connexion by Boeing and other satellite companies is to offer services that consumers want and will pay to use. As with virtually any new service, gadget or consumer electronics product, users typically do not care about the engineering behind it. They just want it to work, period. Whether the service involves satellite- based video, voice or data, industry officials and regulators are adjusting and looking to rollout new capabilities without interfering with existing users in the same spectrum band.

      These instances of innovation will continue to require regulators to find ways to allow progress to take place, without compromising the services provided by current bandwidth users.

      –Paul Dykewicz

      (Don Abelson, FCC, 202/418-0437; Tom Tycz, FCC, 202/418-0735)

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