Satellite professionals/operators have faced spectrum battles in the past, but with luge and hungry telecommunications firms lobbying to gain more access to C-band for then- next generation wireless services, satellite players may face their toughest spectrum fight yet. With a key International telecommunications Union (ITU) meeting set to begin later this year, satellite operators and their customers are in a race against time to put together compelling arguments to make sure C-band spectrum remains reserved for satellite services and is not lost to a powerful and well-financed competitor.
The fight over C-band spectrum is bringing out strong feelings from many in the satellite industry, with some believing this battle can not be lost due to dollars at stake as well as the importance of C-band for delivering services in many parts of the globe. "Major terrestrial wireless interests are lobbying for C-band spectrum to be reallocated for next generation broadband wireless access and IMT 2000 services to the exclusion of satellite services. "If these efforts are successful it would represent a loss of billions of dollars per year and a severe blow to the millions of users that have come to depend upon C-band satellite services through out the world.......Not to put too fine a point on it, but for many users preservation of the band for delivery of satellite services is literally a matter of life and death."
Reasoning/Understanding the Value
The ITU will be taking up the C-band issue at the world Radio communication conference, which is scheduled to begin in October in Geneva. Agenda item 1.4, will cover identification of future spectrum for development of wireless services, generically known as international mobile telecommunications (IMT). The terrestrial operators want more access to extended C-band frequencies ranging from 3.4 gigahertz to 3.7 gigahertz, and providing them access could interfere with satellite services that are provided using the entire C-band spectrum. This is a dual threat to the satellite industry, "we have the WiMax group which is concentrating on the 3.4 to 3.6 gigahertz band, or the lower portion of C-band. The second group is called the IMT, and this is fourth generation wireless. They are looking more aggressively at the entire 3.4 to 4.2 band."
Robert Bednarek, CEO of SES New Skies, says the threat to satellite players is "pretty significant", and that satellite's arguments about the importance of C-band spectrum potentially are being hampered by misperceptions. Correcting these misperceptions is vital ahead of the ITU meeting. "First, there is the notion that for some reason the C-band is underutilized or unused, which is absolutely incorrect," he says. "Second, there is the perception that IMT and WiMax are vitally needed services for which there are no other alternatives at this point. The third misperception is how the spectrum process works and how regulators weigh the relative merits of the competing claims for the spectrum. What appears to be happening is that there is a vendor manufacturer dominated coalition pushing WiMax and IMT without really defining the business models that would be used and the customers that they would be addressing and how they would even work."
Satellite players have invested heavily in to provide services using C-band spectrum. "There are more than 160 satellites that use C-band. That is a $40 billion-plus investment in capital". I don't know the exact revenue figures across the industry or the hundreds of million of users involved, but every Cable TV house hold is receiving some portion of its programming via C-band satellite. Most cable systems around the world receive some portion of their video programming via C-band. This is only the beginning. We have the interconnections and GSM trunking. Disruption of this global activity must be part of the discussion about the speculative future services promised by others".
If access to parts of the C-band spectrum were lost, many of those investments would simply be lost as well. "C-band has been as essential part of the Asian satellite industry for the last 30 years contributing a considerable percentage of its revenue." Satellites are currently built to last 15 years, and we have no ability to change the frequency once they are launched. So if the frequency was reallocated, the industry would end up with billions of dollars worth of equipment in the air not producing revenue".
We want to make sure that governments and industry understand the value of the services currently provided in C-band. "Video distribution is one of them but not the only one by any means. In many parts of the world the cellular networks do not work if we lose C-band. VSAT networks for business transactions are often riding over C-band services as well.
The Potential Losers
While the satellite industry itself has much to lose if the C-band spectrum is reallocated, the loss of services supplied via this spectrum would have an impact on lives around the globe.
"There are hundreds of applications which are supported by C-band satellites,". "Many of these have vital economic roles. For someone to come along and say that terrestrial residential broadband access using an unproven business model where other technological alternatives are well embedded trumps all of those services, it is not appropriate."
In places such as Asia, satellite based C-band services plays vital role, says Gude. "I think there is a growing understanding of the importance of C-band services to them, particularly when it comes to high rain zone areas or areas which require much broader coverage in terms of land mass." "We just can not provide these services cost-effectively in any other band or in any other way than
using satellite services for those applications. In high rain zones, C-band tends to be largely impervious to rain fade, making this band the most reliable for service distribution. The large beam coverage also allow for the extension of telecommunications networks to rural and low population density areas in a way that other technologies cannot".
Tom Choi, CEO of Asia Broadcast Satellite (ABS) also sees potential catastrophe in the Asia-Pacific region if access to the spectrum is lost. ABS operates 28 C-band transponders over the region, which represents more than 60 percent of the company's capacity. "We are deeply concerned about the use of WiMax in the C-band spectrum," he says. "ABS like any other satellite operators in the Indian ocean and Asia pacific region, would be severely impacted if all of the C-band capacity would not be usable for our customers." Governments in these regions also are using C-band satellite services to implement a broad range of programs such as telehealth, rural telecentres, cyber cafes, post offices, air traffic control, small and medium enterprises, oil and gas concerns, mining, forestry, banking and other financial services.
While sheer strength and size gives the telcos an advantage in the debate over which provider should have access to the spectrum, momentum for satellite's arguments seems to be finding favor. While he admits there is still a lot of "uncertainty" regarding this issue, Hartshorn believes there is a growing realization of the importance of satellite as regards C-band. "In the Americas, for example, there is a growing list of nations that have officially confirmed their support for C-band satellite services. "In Asia, national administration such as India, Pakistan and Malaysia have postponed implementation of spectrum reallocations that would have adversely impacted on C-band satellite services. The Arab region is also strongly against interruption of C-band satellite services. However, the threat is not going to go away. "Terrestrial wireless interests will continue to use their muscle to try to gain access to the spectrum. The satellite industry can improve its position by making more efficient use of the C-band spectrum. Many satellite players have been deploying spectrum efficient technologies in order to increase the capacity to be carried in their satellite transponders, the satellite users in many countries are reluctant to cooperate. "Most of them are still using analog receiving terminals because analog systems are much cheaper. This does not make efficient use of radio spectrum in the C-band. It is unlikely these users will automatically switch to use digital systems if they can still continuously receive satellite TV programmes in analog form. Thus, it seems that there is a room for improving the efficiency in the use of the spectrum in the C-band.
The events of the next several months are likely to have huge ramifications on the global satellite industry, as many in the satellite industry have spelled out the importance of satellite "winning" this battle. Losing even a portion of C-band spectrum to other telecommunications providers is not an option, and if that were to happen, there would be no silver lining. Satellite operators in Asia and Africa would have their business plans hugely impacted, and users who rely on satellites for communication and vital services could find they are no longer able to access to such services. The issue expands far beyond a simple telecom versus satellite debate.