Peter B. de Selding
June 9, 2016
PARIS — A coalition of 5G terrestrial mobile broadband companies led by Charlie Ergen’s Dish Network on June 8 asked U.S. regulators to strip future low-orbiting satellite Internet constellations of their priority access to 500 megahertz of Ku-band spectrum – spectrum coveted by prospective constellation operators including OneWeb LLC and SpaceX.
SpaceX and satellite fleet operator Intelsat, a OneWeb investor and partner, immediately filed separate opposition papers to the FCC, arguing that nongeostationary-orbit (NGSO) constellations are very much alive.
In a June 8 submission to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the coalition says the low-orbiting satellite constellations in Ku-band have provided no credible evidence that they will ever be built. Even if they are, there is plenty of spectrum available in both Ku- and Ka-band, the coalition said.
“There is simply no basis to jeopardize 5G [Multi-Channel Video Distribution and Data Service, or MVDDS] deployment to give additional spectrum to a speculative NGSO service that already has access to ample spectrum,” the MVDDA Coalition said in its FCC petition, referring specifically to OneWeb.
Based in Britain’s Channel Islands, OneWeb in April submitted to the FCC a request for a U.S. operating license and has been the most active of the proposed nongeostationary-orbit (NGSO) constellations. It raised $500 million in June 2015 and since has created, with partner Airbus Group, a satellite manufacturing company with which it has signed a contract to build 900 OneWeb satellites.
OneWeb has signed a firm, fixed-price contract for 21 OneWeb launches aboard Europeanized Russian Soyuz rockets, to start in late 2017 or early 2018.
OneWeb Satellites, based in Exploration Park, Florida, recently announced its selection of a first group of satellite subcontractors.
But in the year since its announcement of investors and strategic partners, OneWeb has not announced any new backers for what it estimates will be a capital investment of $3 billion or more.
SpaceX: Quiet doesn’t mean inactive
Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX, a growing provider of launch services, in January 2015 announced that it would build a satellite production facility in Seattle, Washington, for a constellation of 4,000 satellites, also using Ku-band for the links to end users.
Since then, SpaceX founder Elon Musk, who in addition to managing a diverse and growing SpaceX business portfolio is also chief executive of electric-car manufacturer Tesla Motors, has had little to say about the satellite initiative.
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell has said the investment remains “very speculative” pending a deeper assessment of its business plan. She also said an early 2015 investment of $1 billion in SpaceX by Google and Fidelity Investments was for general SpaceX corporate purposes and not earmarked for the satellite project.
SpaceX’s hiring announcements, however, have suggested the company intends to pursue the satellite constellation beyond its stated plan to launch two small technology-demonstration satellites that under current international regulations would preserve the regulatory reservation of the entire SpaceX constellation.
In its FCC filing, also dated June 8, SpaceX said low-orbiting constellation development “is at an all-time high and operators are on the precipice of bringing revolutionary broadband access services to the market.”
SpaceX explained its relative silence about its satellite plans as being the result not of indecision, but of competitive discretion.
“The details of these proposed [satellite] systems are not currently well-known, as the development and deployment of satellite systems are highly proprietary and may take several years to finalize, during which time the operators hold details as highly confidential for obvious competitive reasons,” the company said.
The MVDDS Coalition is specifically asking that the FCC, when it moves forward this year on its Spectrum Frontiers Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, permit two-way 5G mobile networks to use the Ku-band frequency between 12.2 GHz and 12.7 GHz. That would mean, in effect, removing the priority allocation now given for nongeostationary-orbit satellite systems.
The coalition said a recent study performed by Tom Peters, a former chief engineer at the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, found that new technology would permit 5G to coexist in this spectrum with current direct-broadcast television satellite signals.
5G coalition agrees sharing not possible with LEO constellations
The coalition concedes that no such spectrum sharing is possible with low-orbiting satellite systems without “severe operational constraints on MVDDS, NGSO FSS [fixed satellite service] or both services.”
“Even with the best-case assumption of a mobile device transmitting at the lowest power level possible, NGSO devices will still receive interference when they are located within 22 meters of a 5G mobile device,” the coalition said.
Unlike a years-long battle between terrestrial wireless broadband providers and satellite systems with respect to C-band, the Ku-band contest appears to benefit from a clear understanding that neither can work with the other in the same frequencies.
The coalition said other parts of Ku-band, plus Ka-band frequencies, are available to satellite constellations – should they be built.
Luxembourg- and McLean, Virginia-based Intelsat, which operates a fleet of satellites, many in Ku-band, in geostationary orbit and is a OneWeb partner and investor, echoed the SpaceX position but went further.
Intelsat noted OneWeb’s FCC application and said OneWeb is only the first. “[I]t is likely that other NGSO FSS systems soon will file applications seeking to serve the United States,” Intelsat said.
Intelsat also disputes the coalition’s claim that existing direct-broadcast satellite services are able to coexist with two-way 5G mobile in the 12.2-12.7 GHz band.
This spectrum is occupied “by literally millions of of unregistered receive-only Earth terminals that inherently are incompatible with a terrestrial mobile service,” Intelsat said. “[A]dding the proposed two-way mobile service… may also cause harmful interference to Intelsat’s existing gateway operation.”