European satellite groups set to win S-band spectrum

Two European satellite companies will be allocated rights to radio spectrum that could be used to create new Europe-wide mobile phone services, reports the Financial Times.

The European Commission earmarked the S-band frequencies for satellite companies and then decided to pool the S-band licences from all its member states, and award them in one block. Spectrum is usually awarded or auctioned on a country-by-country basis, but the EC wants to promote mobile services such as mobile TV.

Inmarsat, the UK-based satellite operator, and Solaris Mobile, a joint venture between Luxembourg-based SES Astra and Eutelsat of France, are expected to be given 18-year rights to S-band radio spectrum in 27 countries across Europe. It looks like they succeed where the two US bidders, ICO Global Communications and TerreStar, failed.

According to the FT report, analysts believe the real value could come from satellite companies partnering with terrestrial mobile phone operators wanting to use the spectrum.

The S-band is close to that used by 3G mobile and could be used for mobile data, and 3G equipment including handsets and masts, could be reconfigured to work with S-band.

The S-band spectrum could also be used by a new entrant into the mobile phone market, for example, if Google wanted to build mobile broadband services across Europe, the FT says.

Google has invested in a company building satellite broadband coverage in Africa and has been active in building WiMAX mobile broadband networks in the US.