Ofcom S-Band decision raises ICO-Global hackles

POSTED BY Global Administrator
It’s all kicking off in mobile satellite services.

In case you hadn’t heard, the European Commission has been seeking to select a single, pan-European operating system (which will provide capacity for services such as mobile TV, high-speed Internet access and emergency communications), and in December 2008 announced that applications had been received from four companies and consortia: Solaris (a joint venture between SES Astra and Eutelsat), Inmarsat, ICO-Global and TerreStar.

There was one small fly in the ointment. If the service were to be provided on a pan-European basis, it would require pan-European S-Band  spectrum – and some of this spectrum was already registered to ICO-Global for its ICO-P satellite system. Note, was. Because on February 27 Ofcom issued a statement saying that “that it will write to the ITU on 17 March to instruct that the ICO-P assignments currently recorded in the ITU Master Register be cancelled.”

While the statement does not elaborate, it would appear that Ofcom has ostensibly sought to cancel the registration due to delays in the deployment of the ICO-P satellite system.

However, the cancellation was also generally perceived as a means of clearing the decks for Solaris, the overwhelming favourite to provide the operating system, which plans to offer the service via the Eutelsat W2A satellite (scheduled for launch at the end of the month) and which was showcasing mobile TV via DVB-SH at the MWC.

However, and unsurprisingly, ICO-Global has come out of its corner swinging, issuing its own press release “taking strong exception” to the Ofcom statement. The company had indeed previously initiated proceedings in the European Court which sought an annulment of the S-Band licensing given its own prior claim.

Quite how this will all pan out is difficult to anticipate. It could be that while Solaris is ready to launch a variety of mobile satellite services by the middle of the year, litigation could prevent any commercial deployment of services.

One final thought: any mobile TV services offered by the satellite will require the further deployment of networks of terrestrial repeaters by national network operators. Which, given the high risks associated with mobile TV services, particularly in an economic downturn, is unlikely in either the short or medium term…