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Stay resolute in fight to preserve C-band for FSS

By Shawn Liew

WASHINGTON – Satellite service providers Intelsat and SES have announced an alignment on a proposal to the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which seeks to “protect the wide array of established satellite services in the 3700-4200MHz C-band downlink spectrum while opening a specified portion of that spectrum for terrestrial mobile use.”

The proposal, announced earlier this year, builds on an initial proposal put forth by Intelsat and Intel last October, and sets a commercial and technical framework that would enable wireless operators to quickly access approximately 100MHz of nationwide C-band downlink spectrum in the US, thus speeding the deployment of next-generation 5G services, said Intelsat and SES.

It is widely expected that by 2020 a number of 5G networks will be launched globally — and they will require more spectrum to operate in.

What this new proposal entails is the voluntary clearing of satellite users from the 3700-3800MHz in order to accommodate terrestrial mobile services, an APSCC spokesperson told APB. “Under this proposal, the remaining 3800-4200MHz of the C-band would be secured for satellite use, and fair compensation would be paid to the affected parties.

“This ensures that most of the standard C-band can still be used to support the thousands of US cable and broadcast channels being distributed via C-band satellites today.”

The proposals from Intel, Intelsat and SES are a respond to specific conditions in the US, highlights John Mederios, chief policy officer, CASBAA. These conditions, he explained, include huge geographic scope covered by a single regulator, and across temperate zones that predominately do not experience tropical rains.

“While other regulators will no doubt study the US model when it is fully implemented, it is not a template for solutions that could be imported to the rest of the world,” Mederios said. “More specifically, it is not a scheme that could be used successfully in the tropical zones of Asia-Pacific.”

In this region, C-band satellites continue to play an “irreplaceable role” in ensuring video distribution — and other essential services — to half a billion homes and businesses, he added.

APSCC members — including both Intelsat and SES — are unanimous in agreeing that the proposal is not appropriate outside of the US, and is not necessary or practical in Asia-Pacific, revealed the APSCC spokesperson.

“Rather, APSCC believes that this US-centric proposal is best understood as a good faith attempt to compromise, given the specific regulatory and market conditions in the US.”

At WRC-15, one of the key verdicts passed was to maintain C-band spectrum primarily for fixed-satellite service (FSS). As the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) prepares to re-convene for WRC-19 next October in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, is there a case to be made for more spectrum to be allocated for the IMT industry?

Yes, said the APSCC, but not at the amount being asked for, and especially not in occupied satellite bands.

“We expect mobile consumption to grow — in fact, the satellite industry’s investment in current and next-generation high throughput satellites (HTS) is premised in part on that growth,” said the APSCC spokesperson. “However, some mobile industry estimates would have you believe that, very soon, the amount of mobile data consumed will be more than if every mobile user on Earth were watching 4K/Ultra HD (UHD) video for 16 hours a day. We do not think that is a realistic projection.”

There also remains an under-utilisation of spectrum already allocated to the IMT industry, further dismissing any need to displace satellite services in C-band to satisfy IMT spectrum requirements, said APSCC.

The WRC-19 agenda includes an examination of a wide range of new spectrum options in higher frequency bands whose use was “unimaginable” a few short years ago, but is now becoming technically and commercially feasible, said CASBAA’s Medeiros.

He continued: “Indeed, we view the future 5G ecosystem as one where satellites will play an integral role, providing telcos with the ability to roll out 5G across Asia’s many nations and diverse geographies, moving huge volumes of data to base stations — whether urban or remote — from which the telcos can deliver services to customers.”

However, there should be no doubt that C-band satellite services remain vital in reaching out to large populations in Asia-Pacific, where mobile networks simply do not exist, or are currently underdeveloped, Medeiros emphasised.

“We urge governments in Asia to focus on sustaining services to those populations too while working together to find different frequencies — outside those used by satellites — to help expand video delivery to urban consumers over 5G networks.”

Having confirmed the importance of C-band spectrum for satellite at WRC-15, governments and regulators need to remain resolute and fight to retain that spectrum for satellite, and avoid any new IMT identifications, especially in Asia-Pacific, said APSCC.

About half of the world’s satellite cellular backhaul sites are located in Asia-Pacific, and most of them are using C-band spectrum, the APSCC spokesperson pointed out. He also highlighted how C-band is used throughout the region not just for broadcasting, but also to bridge the digital divide by extending the reach of mobile networks to even the most rural and remote locations.

“It would be foolish to cannibalise this vital backhaul spectrum just so those already with broadband can get more broadband.”

Asia-Pacific represents a “radically different” spectrum market than is found in the US or Europe, in which frequencies above C-band are dominant.

What does not broach argument is how satellite and terrestrial mobile cannot use the same frequency at the same time, without satellite being “silenced”, cautioned Robert Bell, executive director of the World Teleport Association (WTA).

He notes that because of dense population centres and the presence of heavy rainfall in Asia-Pacific, C-band will continue to be crucial for lifeline telephony, broadband access, TV and radio distribution, as well as disaster response.

Sounding a warning bell to regulators, he cautioned: “Any effort to simply open satellite bands to terrestrial use will produce major service interruptions in a region where C-band is indispensable.

“I would expect satellite operators, telcos and national governments to continue a strong defence of their exclusive right to spectrum at WRC-19.”

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