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Protecting C-Band Satellite Operations

By | December 1, 2007

      The satellite industry must seek to persuade policy makers at the highest international level as well as at the national and regional level of the need to protect existing satellite operations in the C-band (3.4 gigahertz to 4.2 gigahertz) from interfering terrestrial wireless applications.

      When this article is published, the ink will be barely dry on the resolutions issued by the International Telecommunication Union World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-07) in Geneva. We know already that the C-band argument was shaping up to be the hottest item on the agenda. Terrestrial wireless operators, eager for new spectrum wherever they can get it, were seeking access to the C-band for WiMax and other broadband wireless access (BWA) systems.

      In response, the satellite industry entered the conference with an unprecedented effort to head off changes in the international rules. Regardless of the results of WRC-07 however, the same arguments remain in play within Europe and require focused satellite industry attention.

      Just before WRC-07 opened, eight satellite industry associations from around the world issued a joint statement on the incompatibility of BWA with satellite services in adjacent C-band operations. The Oct. 16 industry statement noted that co-locating terrestrial operations in this band would cause massive disruptions to C-band satellite communications.
      These arguments were based on experience and not just theory.  The statement described tests of potential terrestrial operations and the resulting interference.  Moreover, it described substantial interruptions of satellite services in places where countries already have allowed BWA services to use the C-band. Particularly noteworthy was an example from Hong Kong, where experiments with BWA knocked satellite television links off the air, interrupting service to 300 million households throughout Asia!

      As this article is being written, the results of the WRC-07 are difficult to predict. Important blocks of countries have recognized the potential harm from permitting further terrestrial services into this spectrum band. Much of the world has now confirmed their opposition to identification of the C-band for new terrestrial services, but still some other countries are pushing for the change.

      Among the countries seeking more terrestrial operation in the C-band is the European block. The official European common positions supported BWA in the lower part of the C-band. Regardless of the WRC-07 outcome, this approach is progressing through efforts of the European Commission’s Radio Spectrum Committee.

      Only a few weeks before the opening of the WRC-07, the Radio Spectrum Committee released a proposal for a European Commission decision to permit BWA in the lower C-band. The proposal would require European Union member states to designate the 3.4 to 3.6 GHz band for BWA by 2008 and subsequently make available the 3.6 to 3.8 GHz band by a date yet to be determined but tentatively set at 2012. This non-exclusive use would be subject to technical conditions set in the decision.

      The satellite industry objects that the proposed technical conditions need to be tightened, and in any event the proposal is incompatible with existing satellite service across Europe. The Satellite Action Plan Regulatory Group points to studies undertaken in Europe through the European Conference on Postal and Telecommunications Administrations indicating that BWA systems must be separated from satellite ground stations in these bands by tens to hundreds of kilometers.

      Arguments noted by the satellite industry at WRC-07 will be directed with equal force to the Radio Spectrum Committee proceedings. As satellite representatives pointed out in papers released just before WRC-07, “C-band is used by satellite operators to provide inter-continental connectivity between Europe and the rest of the world as well as for the provision of a whole variety of critical services worldwide. In Europe only, where the European Commission is already a large user of C-band satellite capacity (for connections with Africa and Latin America), satellite operators are also investing in new C-band services.”

      The European efforts essentially will be put on hold during WRC-07, because most of the experts on these topics will be in Geneva. The next Radio Spectrum Committee meeting is scheduled for mid-December, where this issue will again be on the table. Regardless of the WRC-07 outcome, the satellite industry will have to continue its impressive lobbying efforts to convince regulators that they are going down the wrong track with introducing BWA into radio spectrum already heavily used by the satellite sector.

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