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Ofcom graciously gives satellites go-ahead

That's just half a mil' per MHz, alright?

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

UK regulator Ofcom has decided not to restrict what satellite operators can do with their Complementary Ground Component, but still intends to make serious money out of them.

Back in May the EU awarded 60MHz of paired spectrum to two prospective satellite service operators, Inmarsat and Solaris Mobile, and advised local regulators to make the same spectrum available to those companies for ground-based extensions. That decision is still the subject of legal challenges, but Ofcom has looked at the figures and decided that the winner should pay the regulator £554,000 a year for every pair of 1MHz frequencies it uses (pdf).

The spectrum under debate comes in two blocks, 1980–2010MHz and 2170–2200MHz, which can be paired for duplex communication. Ofcom has no authority to charge for the satellite's use of the spectrum, but the operators will want to extend their coverage into buildings and shady spots, so will have to set up transmitters in the same range on our green and pleasant land.

Of course no one else can use the spectrum without interfering with the satellite broadcasts, so it's arguable that the frequencies are worthless and should be given away for free. But that's not an argument to which Ofcom subscribes, preferring instead to compare the spectrum to the 1800MHz blocks owned by T-Mobile and Orange, putting the value at the above-mentioned half million, per year, per pair of 1MHz channels.

The good news is that the operators won’t be required to stump up 16 million quid (the cost of the whole band) annually from the word go; they'll only pay for spectrum actually used by transmitters on the ground. They'll also be allowed to use that spectrum for anything they like, not just extending their satellite coverage.

Which is probably a good thing - we're not convinced that satellite broadcasting, or telephony, is going to be a big money spinner. Broadcasting TV to a mobile phone, which is supposed to be the killer application, is already looking like a dead duck in Europe; and while ubiquitous coverage might be useful in some parts of Europe in the UK, it's unlikely to prove a compelling reason to tolerate the half-second lag required to reach geostationary and back.

Complementary Ground Components can remove that latency, by cutting the satellite out of the equation, but it's not easy to see how such a service is going to compete in the UK even before Ofcom's proposed fee is accounted for. The regulator does concede that it might re-evaluate the situation in five years, if it can be convinced that the cost is preventing deployment, which shouldn't be hard when the operators decide their services will be better offered elsewhere. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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