Spectrum and policy considerations for the satellite sector

The satellite sector is evolving at a pace, with an increasing number of non-geostationary orbit (NGSO) satellite constellations providing high-capacity data services across large parts of the global land mass and the oceans. NGSO covers Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) constellations with LEO services perhaps getting most media coverage (and investment) today.   

The general consensus is that, in developed European markets, satellite broadband is likely to be niche. However, it’s worth noting that satellite systems offer capabilities that other types of deployment would struggle to match:  

  • Connectivity to remote areas (land, sea or air) for individuals, transport platforms, business or for mobile backhaul. 
  • Continent wide or global IoT services. 
  • Resilient links for some security-conscious industries (military, banking, lotteries). 
  • One-to-many content distribution (such as TV broadcast, media or software distribution). 
  • High-capacity links in the absence of high-capacity fixed connectivity. 
  • Peripatetic links, such as electronic news gathering (ENG) and some sports coverage (e.g., golf). 

There are, of course, large parts of the world where people remain unserved by any fixed-line broadband service and satellite systems have a unique ability to reach these areas, at what might be considered to be zero marginal cost. In recent years, a new breed of NGSO satellite systems have started to be developed that promise low-cost broadband connectivity. For example, the “European Union is progressing with its low-earth orbit quantum-encrypted satellite communications system, with the European Commission pushing industry and member states to get to work on the €6 billion project as early as next year.”[1] 

This growth in investment in new satellite systems will increase the demand for spectrum, orbital slots and terrestrial gateways that need to be deployed in a number of countries – all essential requirements for any planned satellite service.  

Acquiring spectrum will always be challenging, since the available spectrum bands are already occupied with various types of terrestrial and non-terrestrial services. Therefore, from the regulators and existing users’ perspective, interference management is of paramount importance for the successful operation of any planned new systems. Regulators will be looking to develop flexible licensing approaches that will help alleviate the spectrum scarcity, but only if any co-existence challenges can be overcome to the satisfaction of all stakeholders. Therefore, technical co-existence analysis is a fundamental requirement during the development of new satellite systems, getting approval from regulators and maintaining the system performance of all existing and newly launched systems.  

Due to the velocity of NGSO satellites and the complexity of their constellations, interference scenarios are much more complex than with GSO and terrestrial mobile networks. Therefore, when planning for new integrated satellite and terrestrial systems – known as non-terrestrial networks, it is essential to carry out the co-existence analysis across the different environments in which they operate, i.e. space, maritime, aeronautical and terrestrial – in addition to ensuring that both incumbents and emerging service providers can operate without harmful interference. 

Real Wireless is experienced in conducting regulatory assessments of potential inference scenarios and co-existence analysis. Our aim is to ensure that regulation is proportionate to the nature of the challenge. The severity of the interference from the aggressor varies significantly across systems and depends on the geometries of the system components, the path loss between them, and the transceiver characteristics. As a result, the potential mitigation and licensing conditions available for each scenario are different. 

Our domain knowledge in this field enables us to model such systems using realistic interference scenarios and parameters, so that the regulators and service providers can develop sensible regulatory approaches and licensing conditions. 

[1] https://sciencebusiness.net/news/eu-launches-plan-independent-low-earth-orbit-satellite-broadband-communication-system