Harmonising Satellite Spectrum for Earth Stations in Motion
Today’s consumers, businesses and governments expect connectivity everywhere - to be able to do video calls while on the road, post content on social media, have continuous access to cloud-based applications, and rely on always-on connectivity for disaster and emergency response. This is only possible because satellite service providers deploy Earth Stations in Motion (ESIM), to deliver truly ubiquitous high-speed broadband on board aircraft, vessels, trains, and vehicles. ESIMs are also critical in connecting government agencies and first responders following disasters, in the areas where local communications infrastructure is damaged or destroyed.
It is important to dispel some myths about the usage of Ka-band by ESIMS, and terrestrial deployments. The World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC) has twice excluded the 27.5-29.5 GHz Ka-band from 5G/IMT identification due to intensive satellite use of the band. There is clearly more than enough spectrum in the 26 GHz band to satisfy 5G/IMT demand, and in most areas the terrestrial mobile carriers have focused more on mid-band spectrum rather than millimetre wave frequencies to deploy 5G services.
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) will meet at the World Radiocommunications Conference in 2023 to amend the ITU Radio Regulations and consider establishing globally harmonised frequencies in the Ka-band for ESIMs communicating with non-geostationary satellites (NGSO), as it did in 2019 for Geostationary (GEO) satellites. This will bring more competition, as well as lower latency, such as via satellites in medium earth orbit (MEO), for ESIM services. However more can be done today to ensure that satellite operators such as SES can continue delivering and expanding these services:
First, ESIMs operations need protected and primary access to existing satellite spectrum allocations. ESIMs rely heavily on the 28/18 GHz and Ku-band to deliver high-throughput data connectivity and C-band to ensure robust and reliable connectivity in the harshest environments.
Second, satellite networks require regulatory certainty and simplicity, which supports network expansion, investment in innovations, and ensure continuity of service. Countries that simplify access to their territorial waters, seaports, airspace, and airports for ESIMs will ensure their citizens and guests can take full advantage of broadband on the move.
Finally, enabling consumers and business with connectivity whenever they need it requires global harmonisation of frequencies.
Achieving access to ESIMs connectivity in a timely manner requires governments to provide blanket authorisations for ESIMs on domestic registered aircraft and vessels, whilst enabling ESIMs authorised by other jurisdictions to operate domestically. Countries that establish “open skies” policies for satellite services with no “landing rights” requirements will reduce administrative burdens and create an environment for faster and broader ESIMs deployment. On a global level, support for harmonisation and preservation of satellite frequencies at the ITU and regional bodies will sustain expansion and accessibility of ESIMs.