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Ofcom Consult on UK Space Spectrum Strategy and Satellite Broadband

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016 (2:25 pm) - Score 628
satellite internet transmission dish

The UK telecoms regulator has launched its new ‘Space Spectrum Strategy‘ (PDF) consultation, which among other things aims to enable growth in broadband communications provided via Satellite to hard to reach locations on land (rural areas), ships and aircraft.

Ofcom’s provision view is that they could “unlock significant value” by liberalising existing spectrum use to enable greater exploitation of new technologies, although they also found no need to prioritise the identification of additional spectrum for satellite broadband because “existing bands are likely to provide sufficient capacity for considerable growth“.

Never the less the regulator intends to carry out a high level review of the risk of inefficient use of orbital resources and the resulting impact on UK citizens and consumers, which will help to inform their future approaches.

In terms of liberalising existing spectrum, Ofcom identified several key developments that they felt “could support growing benefits from satellite broadband“.

Key Developments for Growing Satellite Broadband

• the use of geostationary satellites (GSO) to provide services to earth stations in motion (ESIMs also known as ESOMPs60), for example on aircraft;
• the growth of nGSO (Non-Geostationary Satellite Orbit) constellations;
• the use of High Throughput Satellites (HTS);
• the increasing use of Ka-band; and
• the use of complementary ground components (CGC).

Generally Ofcom does not believe there is any specific regulatory action needed to enable growth in use of HTS, although they do see a need to take action with regard to nGSO networks, ESIMS and CGCs that could benefit from liberalising spectrum use. But some of these will require decisions to be taken at both a European and or global level.

For example, Ofcom already support the ITU on extending ESIM access in Ka-band spectrum to include the 17.7-19.7GHz and 27.5-29.5GHz bands and they’re also working with Europe to develop an appropriate regulatory framework for nGSO satellite constellations in the Ku-band.

The Ka-band is popular with Satellite broadband operators like Eutelsat (KA-SAT spacecraft), which consumers may be more familiar with via the “TooWay” service. Speaking of which Eutelsat and ViaSat have recently announced plans to build three new ViaSat-3 spacecraft, which could deliver speeds of 100Mbps+ to customers around Europe and possibly the UK (here).

Interestingly Ofcom has also considered future scenarios where GSO satellites are used to provide broadband connectivity to a proportion of UK premises and flights travelling to and from the UK. In principle the orbital arc visible from the UK could support 42 GSO satellites and their analysis returned the following conclusions.

In 2020, with 10 GSO satellites with a service area covering the UK, it might be possible to deliver:

* 10 Mbit/s satellite broadband (with a 20:1 contention ratio) to 0.7% of UK premises65; and
* 5 Mbit/s satellite broadband (e.g. via Wi-Fi) to 80% of passengers on long-haul flights travelling in UK airspace at any given time (with a 20:1 contention ratio).

In 2025, if the market continues to grow, assuming 22 GSO satellites with a service area covering the UK and further improvements in technology, it might be possible for:

* 20 Mbit/s satellite broadband (with a 20:1 contention ratio) to be provided to 1% of UK premises; and
* 90% of passengers on all long-haul flights travelling over UK airspace at any given time to use broadband (e.g. via Wi-Fi) on board the flight at 10Mbit/s (with a 20:1 contention ratio).

The above calculations are less about geographic coverage and more about the availability of capacity when shared between many other users, not just in the UK but also across other parts of Europe etc.

Otherwise Ofcom’s report touches on a lot of different areas, such as in the need to support broadcast TV services, global positioning, satellite imagery and information about our climate (scientific research etc.). At this stage the regulator isn’t prescribing anything specific for the market and instead just wants to collect feedback from the industry.

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