Space Spectrum Trends Point to Growing Policy Concerns; SCS Rules a Challenge
Space operators see themselves facing emerging policy hurdles around the globe that could impede satellite spectrum sharing and satellite mesh networks. At the SmallSat Symposium in Silicon Valley Thursday, there also was discussion about the growing challenges of an increasingly noisy and crowded low earth orbit (LEO) environment and talk of the need for a global approach to space sustainability.
The lack of a global agency with the resources, mandate and government and private sector participation to tackle space sustainability “is a disaster,” said EchoStar Senior Vice President-Regulatory Affairs Jennifer Manner. While the ITU is studying the issue, action won’t be taken until the 2031 World Radiocommunication Conference at best, she said.
Manner said governments’ desire for revenues could impede better satellite spectrum sharing. “Every company wants exclusive spectrum” and nations like Saudi Arabia and Australia are pursuing that route via auctions for satellite spectrum, she said. WRC-23 saw a number of discussions about “equitable access" by developing nations to spectrum to LEO orbit, she said. The WRC-27 agenda item about equitable access to the Q- and V-bands is likely to expand to other bands, she said.
Magnestar CEO Jacqueline Good said multiple nations broached the idea at WRC-23 of limiting inter-satellite links and earth imaging over their territory. With the satellite industry moving increasingly to mesh networks, territory-specific restrictions could create big complications, she said.
The Western commercial space industry and allied nations need to stop the internecine infighting over spectrum and focus on emerging challenges like China's massive LEO plans, said LeoLabs Chief Revenue Officer Jacinta Tobin. China's space ambitions could see it launching 25,000 satellites into LEO orbit in the next six years, with many of them causing interference to U.S. and allied communications, she said: That's a big imperative for the industry and allied nations "to come up a level and collaborate."
Supplemental coverage from space using terrestrial spectrum doesn't fit within the FCC regulatory regimes of fixed and mobile satellite service and mobile satellite service with an ancillary terrestrial component, Sheppard Mullin space lawyer Brian Weimer said during a Wednesday SCS panel. One challenge in crafting a regulatory framework is the lack of wide agreement even on fundamental issues such as whether SCS is a mobile or satellite service, said space and spectrum consultant Tim Farrar.
The FCC's SCS regulatory framework proceeding seems to consider SCS is the reverse of mobile satellite service with an ancillary terrestrial component, said Mindel de la Torre, Omnispace chief regulatory and international strategy officer. But in the latter case, the MSS operator manages the spectrum, which is different from sharing it with a mobile operator, she said. In addition, she said it's unclear how a global SCS system relying on terrestrial spectrum will work considering that there isn't international consistency for what frequencies are used for terrestrial service. Along with considering allocating more spectrum for direct-to-device service at the 2027 World Radiocommunication Conference, the ITU will also look at using international mobile telecommunications spectrum for MSS, de la Torre said. That was a contentious issue at WRC-23, with arguments over which bands to use, she said.
Iridium Chief Technology Officer Greg Pelton said the company's effort to get SCS services to market quickly via its Qualcomm partnership (see 2301030041) failed for business, not technical, reasons. He said smartphone manufacturers didn't see a compelling large market immediately, nor a compelling threat they needed to address. "The decision from the market was wait and see" how standards play out, he said. Chipset and handset vendor feedback to Iridium's subsequent plan to pursue a standards-based approach (see 2311130014) "has been incredibly positive," though that path is slower, said Pelton. He said Iridium can support standard protocols with some small modifications to the standard itself. Iridium joined the 3rd Generation Partnership Project to get Release 19 support for those modifications, Pelton added. Eventually, there could be numerous constellations that use converged and terrestrial spectrum, with handsets not even knowing which infrastructure they are communicating over, Pelton said. But, he added, "that's two WRCs away from us."