Safeguarding C-band

Patrick van Niftrik, VP Spectrum Management & Development EMEA

The C-Band was allocated to and used by the satellite industry since the first networks were deployed over 40 years ago. Today more than 180 satellites with a C-Band spectrum operate in the world, 55 of which cover Europe.

Every three to four years, regulators from around the globe gather to meet at the ITU’s World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC) to review, and, if necessary, revise international regulations governing the use of radio spectrum by all technologies including satellite.

WRC-15 will be held in Geneva from 2 to 27 November 2015. One of the critical items on the agenda will be a discussion of the future of C-band. There is intense debate underway as to whether terrestrial mobile telecoms providers should in the future be able to access C-band frequencies, which until now have been used predominantly by satellite operators.

Patrick van Niftrik, VP Spectrum Management & Development EMEA, SES explains why this is such an important issue, how the satellite industry is coming together in the effort to safeguard satellite C-band spectrum and what you can do to help in this debate.

Q: Why are satellite C-band services under threat?

Patrick van Niftrik: The terrestrial mobile telecom industry has been asserting that they need access to additional spectrum. They say that in order to satisfy the growing mobile data demand for their services, they need to use frequency bands that until now have been used by other services. And they have started by launching a lobbying campaign to try to force satellite service providers to share the C-band. But sharing C-band with terrestrial mobile telecom providers is not technically viable. Since the beginning of this debate, we have demonstrated through multiple technical studies that having the two systems operating in the same frequency band is impossible. It is not even clear that terrestrial mobile networks really need this extra spectrum. For a start, there is already a lot of spectrum reserved for the mobile sector that is currently unused. We also believe that the mobile traffic density assumptions made in the technical studies they have provided to the ITU are unrealistic and therefore may have led to unreliable and misleading data demand forecast.

Q: Why can’t satellite and terrestrial mobile share the C-band?

Patrick van Niftrik: Satellite systems and wireless terrestrial systems are inherently incompatible if they use the same frequency band. Satellite services are delivered over signals beamed from orbiting spacecraft directly to antennas on the ground. Terrestrial masts, on the other hand, emit high-powered transmissions in every direction, which will interfere on the ground with very weak satellite signals. The amount of geographical separation it would take for satellite and wireless terrestrial transmissions to both function reliably in C-band makes coexistence impossible.

Q: Who uses the C-band?

Patrick van Niftrik: C-band has been the workhorse of the satellite communications industry for many decades. Over the years, billions of dollars have been invested by both satellite operators and service providers in this technology.

Millions of households around the world depend directly or indirectly on C-band to deliver their television programming. Just recently, the World Cup was being beamed to homes around the planet, entertaining and bringing together billions of people, and C-band played a hugely important role here.

The global VSAT industry relies heavily on C-band. C-band provides vital communication links for the commercial maritime industry as well as the oil and gas sector, and enables land-based VSAT applications such as mobile backhaul services across challenging terrain and remote territories.

C-band is also used in distance learning, telemedicine and in life-saving operations to bring aid to disaster zones. In essence, it is the lifeblood for many commercial organisations and the core communication infrastructure used in most humanitarian organisations and NGOs.

Q: Why is preserving C-band for satcoms so important?

Patrick van Niftrik: Because it is so resilient in heavy rain, C-band prevails in equatorial countries, many of which are emerging economies, and can’t be replaced by other frequency bands. From enabling broadcasting to supporting commercial business and governmental operations, C-band’s wide coverage offers ubiquitous reach across entire continents and oceans within a single beam, thus making it vital and cost-effective for businesses and applications where large geographic coverage is necessary.

C-band also enables broadcasters to reach more people. It allows businesses to extend their reach, improve communications and services for customers, and helps them to flourish.

C-band enables emergency support for the public when they need it most. In commercial enterprises, any interference will result in operational downtime which reduces efficiency and raises costs. In government and relief operations, downtime may result in lives being put at risk. Hence, we all need to do our part to ensure that C-band remains a vital part of satellite communication solutions and safeguard it from any risks or interference.

The terrestrial mobile providers have begun to show interest in other (even higher) frequency bands that are now being used for satellite services. So it is in the interest of the entire telecommunications industry – and of everyone who uses telecommunication services – to establish clear ground rules for spectrum usage that all parties need to adhere to.

Q: What is the satellite industry doing about this - and what is happening now?

Patrick van Niftrik: We are working in close collaboration with everyone in the satellite industry to safeguard the investment and spectrum required to enable our businesses – and the operations of our commercial and government customers – to thrive. SES has been leading the development of additional technical studies to further demonstrate to ITU technical groups that C-band sharing is not possible. Global satellite operators like SES are joining forces with key regional players, under the coordination of organisations such as the Global VSAT Forum, to work with regulators to increase their awareness of the importance of satellite services in general, and C-band in particular.

To learn more and watch our video on C-band click here The Enduring Appeal of C-band

The industry now anxiously awaits the WRC 2015 conference where all governments of the world will decide the fate of C-Band.

They will need to ensure that safety and security services are kept free of risks from interference. It is in their interests, too, to help promote a healthy satellite TV industry. This is good for business, and economic development. Moreover, it’s good for consumers.