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MSV Files ATC Application With the FCC

By | June 9, 2003

      Reston, Va.-based Mobile Satellite Ventures (MSV) is taking the lead in what eventually could become a trend among mobile satellite services (MSS) operating in the United States.

      The company filed an application June 5 with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to add an ancillary terrestrial component (ATC) to its L -band MSS systems. The FCC approved MSS use of ATC last January. MSV’s filing last week appears to be the first attempt by an MSS operator to take advantage of the opportunity that the controversial regulatory change allows.

      Terrestrial wireless service operators adamantly oppose MSS companies offering ATC. They argue that the MSS operators received their spectrum allocations free of charge, where as they had to pay hefty sums for their spectrum through auctions.

      ATC allows MSS operators to use terrestrial repeaters to ensure satellite signals can be received or transmitted indoors, as well as outdoors. With ATC, MSS operators can use their frequencies, originally allotted only for the space segment, for their terrestrial repeaters.

      For each urban cell, the network control will automatically allocate a particular subset of the operators’ spectrum for terrestrial use for a controlled time window. This process allows accommodation of both the space and ground segments to work within the same spectrum slice. This is more efficient than traditional permanent allocations for space and ground applications, MSS operators say. MSV and ICO Global Communications [OTC: ICOHA.PK] were the two chief proponents of gaining ATC use from the FCC.

      If MSV follows through with its plans to build a next-generation MSS system incorporating ATC, it would be able to provide the same quality service to both urban and rural markets across North America, company officials said.

      “The FCC already endorses MSV’s concept of providing ATC service. We therefore expect quick approval of this application, which will pave the way for MSV to implement the first truly universal wireless service,” said Carson E. Agnew, president and COO of MSV.

      Pending FCC approval, MSV plans to begin construction of the system in 2004, setting the stage for MSV to launch two new geostationary satellites and deploy infrastructure that will serve all of North America, its officials said.

      MSV will not have carte blanche to use ATC, but will have to work under FCC limits, said Roger Rusch, president of Palos Verdes, Calif.-based TelAstra consultancy.

      “The FCC decision appears to preclude the use of the existing MSV satellites for ATC,” Rusch said. “The safe harbor provision of a dual-mode terminal does not make sense for a system that has been designed for a transportable terminal. MSV has an application to build a replacement set of satellites in the 1.6/1.5 GHz spectrum. A government study concludes that MSV would have to start from scratch.”

      The FCC restricts MSV to 1,725 ATC cells nationwide to avoid interfering with services offered by Inmarsat, a London-based MSS company that operates throughout the world. That limit severely restricts terrestrial coverage, Rusch said.

      In contrast, roughly 60,000 cell towers exist in North America today, with terrestrial wireless service provided by an average of three carriers per market, Rusch said. As a result, a single carrier would need at least 20,000 towers to provide service nationwide. The FCC restriction on the number of MSV repeaters would limit the company to providing service to only a fraction of the population, he added.

      “We doubt that this would make MSV service substantially more popular.” In addition, it will not be easy to sell off the satellite service businesses to terrestrial operators, Rusch said.

      “The regulations are strictly defined to ensure that the spectrum is not converted to terrestrial-only service. The main provision that preserves MSS is the safe harbor. The FCC suggested a dual mode handset as proof of intent. This also may cause some problems for MSV at 1.5 GHz,” Rusch said.

      The protection the FCC gave to Inmarsat limits the use of ATC in the 1.5/1.6 GHz band and delayed their introduction for 18 months, he said.

      –Paul Dykewicz

      (Linda Gustus, MSV, 613/742-4168; Roger Rusch, TelAstra, 310/373-1925)

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