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EU sets out mobile satellite services

Transmissions from space must reach all of Europe

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The European Parliament has approved a proposal that demands mobile satellite services reach at least 60 per cent of every country in Europe, and 50 per cent of their populations, in order to get operating spectrum.

The ruling relates to a couple of chunks of spectrum which have been handed to the EU by member countries, for allocation to mobile satellite services on a pan-European basis. The spectrum is around 2GHz, specifically 1980-2010MHz for the up link and 2170-2200MHz for down, with no applicant being allowed to have more than 15MHz for each direction: thus specifying a minimum of two operators.

To qualify for the spectrum those operators will have to reach every country in Europe, with reception possible in 60 per cent of each country's landmass, and by half of their populations.

Quite what these mobile satellite services are isn't clear, however. The EU thinks the services will "improve accessibility, speed, and quality of electronic communications services especially in rural areas", but as long as they are using geostationary satellites the several-second latency inherent in getting a signal 35,000 km up, and down again, makes many of today's internet services impossible to use.

Using satellites in lower orbits reduces that problem, but means using more satellites and replacing them more often, leading to higher costs and more expensive receivers.

To cover those costs you need customers for whom coverage is more important than price: in the USA Mobile Satellite Ventures has just signed up the Department of Homeland Security as a customer for their to-be-launched network, but that will be geostationary and suffer the inevitable latency.

The EU is planning ahead, and the increased use of micro-satellites could make satellite connections to mobile devices more practical, but it's hard to believe they'll ever rival terrestrial systems in any market that can afford to pay for them.

If that's the case then this could be just the kind of thing UK regulator Ofcom is ideologically opposed to - allocating frequencies by use rather than selling them to the highest bidder. It would be a shame to see such a prime chunk of spectrum remain unused 'cos no one wants the internet over a satellite; but as WorldSpace just found out, it's hard to buy the same chunk of spectrum everywhere within your satellite's footprint. ®

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