Satellite ops face spectrum threat

The satellite business faces serious spectrum challenges ahead as customers demand more bandwidth and the mobile broadband sector continues to encroach on C-band spectrum, operators said Monday.

“We see a big issue with spectrum scarcity in the global GEO arc – it’s finite and it can’t be replicated,” said Tom Choi, CEO of Asia Broadcast Satellite. “You can reuse it with spot beams, but it’s still finite and everyone is looking to expand their business.”

Choi said the global arc is already crowded, “so we’re seeing fights with local operators going up against the larger operators that dominate something like 80% of the bandwidth. That’s the biggest challenge in the next ten years.”

Dr Nongluck Phinainitisart, president of THAICOM, agrees. “A major issue for us is that we are running out of capacity, so we need to find ways to use existing capacity more efficiently,” she said.

Demand for satellite capacity is growing thanks in part to the expansion of HD channels and the growing success of services like DTH, but also because of a higher demand for backup capacity in the case of service blackouts or transponder failures, said Paul Brown-Kenyon, CEO of MEASAT.

“We’re seeing a strong demand for redundancy,” he said. “Customers want capacity backed up.” However, Intelsat CEO David McGlade said the bigger spectrum challenge – and one that has to be addressed to ensure future growth for satellite operators – is protecting C-band spectrum from mobile broadband technologies like Wimax.

“We won the battle but not the war at WRC ’07,” he said in reference to the ITU World Radiocommunication Conference 2007, in which the satellite sector lobbied the WRC to implement rules preventing IMT (international mobile telecoms) operators – particularly Wimax operators – from using the 3.5-GHz band to avoid interference with extended C-band frequencies used by satellite operators.

“We need to protect frequencies under threat,” he said, advising operators to “put your best people on this.”

Anthony Baker, COO of Qatar Satellite, says that the WRC ruling on the issue wasn’t so much a victory for satellite as containing the situation by preventing further IMT allocations in the extended C-band. “Wimax is still using our frequency in some parts of the world,” he said. “And you can still easily buy equipment that works up to 3.8 GHz.”

Baker claims the mobile industry will be pushing to claim more spectrum for itself in the next WRC meeting next year, and while it will mainly be asking for frequencies below the 3-GHz band, the spectrum grab will force some operators planning fixed-wireless access services to seek frequencies above it.

“If the application is a super-Wi-Fi type [fixed wireless] service, then there is a case to be made for higher frequencies, and they will target our band because we’re the next band above 3 GHz,” he said.