Satellite industry cites growth as driver for spectrum policy

Iridium satellite (Iridium)
Mobile satellite services grew 5% in 2016, according to the SIA report. (Iridium)

Making yet another case for a satellite-friendly regulatory regime, the Satellite Industry Association (SIA) released its 2017 State of the Satellite Industry Report, which shows the global satellite industry grew 2% in 2016, below the worldwide economic growth of 3.1% and slightly above the U.S. growth of 1.6%.

The report comes at a time when several new satellite initiatives are underway and as the satellite industry lobbies for a U.S. spectrum policy that will ensure future satellite endeavors are successful.

“2016 was once again a positive one for the satellite industry with continued overall growth, double digit growth in earth observation revenues and increased growth in navigation revenues,” said Tom Stroup, president of SIA, in a release (PDF). “Investment and innovation rely on lawmakers maintaining a spectrum policy regime that ensures the continued reliable delivery of vital satellite services to customers now, throughout the next decade and beyond.”

The U.S. satellite industry tallied $110.3 billion in revenue in 2016, for a growth rate of 2%. Mobile satellite services grew 5%, which includes some revenue from Ku and Ka-band fixed satellite services (FSS) capacity provided by MSS operators for maritime, airborne and some other mobility services, according to the report, which was produced by Bryce Space and Technology LLC.

In telecommunications, at least four new low earth orbit (LEO) systems have been announced that will use very small satellites, but none have launched to date, the report noted.

Last month, the FCC granted a petition for U.S. market access to OneWeb, which plans on launching 720 satellites starting next year. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said that after OneWeb filed its petition, several other companies did the same or applied for a U.S. license in the same spectrum bands. The applications are being reviewed by the agency’s International Bureau.

Pai said in a prepared statement the hope is to approve many more constellations because the more companies compete, the more consumers win. The commission also has an ongoing rulemaking proceeding proposing to update the current NGSO FSS rules to better accommodate the next generation of systems.

RELATED: OneWeb gets FCC approval for 720 low-Earth orbit satellites to offer global internet services

Fellow Republican Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, however, was more cautious and noted that multiple conditions were attached to OneWeb’s approval. For example, access to some frequencies could be restricted by future Multichannel Video Distribution and Data Service (MVDDS) proceedings and the FCC’s approval was conditioned on the outcome of the larger NGSO rulemaking.

O’Rielly also identified a “collision course” between the satellite and wireless industries, “both here and internationally, as they seek spectrum for future systems. Generally, I remain concerned that we may be overlooking and foregoing opportunities for the clearing or sharing of spectrum by permitting additional uses on a piecemeal basis.”

Last year, SpaceX, the company founded by Elon Musk, asked the federal government for permission to begin testing a satellite-based internet service that would involve the launch of 4,000 small and inexpensive satellites to beam high-speed internet signals around the world, including remote areas.

Boeing also filed an application to launch a satellite system that initially would consist of up to 2,956 satellites operating in the same V-band spectrum as 5G systems.