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MEMO/07/329

Brussels, 22 August 2007

Selecting and authorising systems providing mobile satellite services in Europe: Frequently Asked Questions

Today the Commission proposes a new mechanism for selecting systems providing Europe-wide mobile satellite services. If adopted by the European Parliament and the EU Council of Telecom Ministers, it will give industry the necessary confidence to invest in EU-wide services, and will result in new services for citizens, even in previously uneconomic remote areas.

What is a mobile satellite service?

A mobile satellite service (MSS) is a service provided by a satellite system which communicates with portable terrestrial terminals. Such systems allow high-speed communication throughout Europe between satellites and handheld mobile terminals comparable in size to GSM or 3G terminals.

Mobile satellite services themselves can range from high-speed internet access to mobile television, and public protection and disaster relief. Another well-known example is portable satellite telephones that allow phone calls to be made and received anywhere in the world.

What are mobile satellite service systems?

Systems providing mobile satellite services use radio spectrum to provide services between a mobile earth station and one or more stations either in space or on the ground at fixed locations.

The radio spectrum is divided into "bands", i.e. ranges of frequencies. Systems providing mobile satellite services have been allocated the 2 GHz frequency band throughout the European Union, comprising radio spectrum from 1980 to 2010 MHz for Earth to space communications, and from 2170 to 2200 MHz for space to Earth communications, according to a Commission Decision adopted on 14 February 2007: http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/policy/radio_spectrum/ref_documents/.

Why is the European Commission involved?

Satellite communications, by their very nature, cross national borders and are thus susceptible to international or regional rather than purely national regulation. The most efficient way of ensuring the coordinated introduction of mobile satellite systems in the EU is to organise a single selection process for all Member States to use in selecting the operators to which the same spectrum will be assigned in each Member State.

At present, existing regulations of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) only have procedures for radio frequency coordination to avoid unacceptable interference between satellite systems. They do not extend to licensing of those systems.

Under current EU Telecom rules national authorities license operators of satellite communications, where applicable. Without a coordinated approach to selection and authorisation, Member States would take steps to put the spectrum band reserved for mobile satellite service into use individually. It is possible that different mobile satellite system operators would be licensed in different Member States. This would deprive operators of pan-European coverage for their services, fragment the internal market, and could also result in complex harmful interference situations.

By creating the conditions for a single market for mobile satellite services, the Commission will maximise the potential of this market, benefiting businesses and consumers alike.

What has the Commission done so far?

Previously the European Commission adopted in February 2007 a Decision reserving the 2 GHz radio frequency bands for use by systems providing mobile satellite services. However, that Decision did not cover procedures for the selection and authorisation of the actual operators of such systems, which is left to the relevant national authorities: http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/policy/radio_spectrum/ref_documents/.

Today's new EU Decision proposes adding a single EU-wide selection and authorisation procedure for operators that want to offer EU-wide mobile satellite services.

The proposed measure follows extensive discussions with national spectrum experts and a public consultation held from 30 March to 30 May 2007 (http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/policy/radio_spectrum/ongoing_consult/2ghz_mss_30march07_30may07/).

What are the next steps?

Today the Commission has adopted a proposal for a Decision on a common EU approach to selecting and authorising mobile satellite service systems. The European Parliament and EU Council of Telecom Ministers must then agree on this Commission Proposal.

Provided this is done in one reading, the Decision could be adopted in early 2008. The Commission will then publish an open call for proposals for interested companies to apply to set up systems for mobile satellite services.

How will operators be selected?

The proposed Decision will provide the basis for a comparative selection procedure organised by the Commission in cooperation with Member States. The selection will be based on a single, open call for applications published by the Commission following the adoption of the Decision.

In the first phase, the technical and commercial development of candidate systems will be assessed. This assessment will rely on the completion of a number of milestones. If no spectrum scarcity is identified, each applicant considered as eligible in this first phase will be selected and authorised by the relevant national authorities, subject to specific minimum requirements related to the criteria below.

However, if spectrum scarcity is found in the first phase, eligible applicants will be further assessed using the following criteria: pan-EU geographic coverage; consumer and competitive benefits; spectrum efficiency; and public policy objectives. Detailed requirements for measuring these criteria will be determined by the Commission in coordination with Member States.

The credibility and viability of the applications will be taken into account throughout the two phases.

The call for applications and any detailed requirements for the selection procedure will be further defined by the Commission and Member States and will be published in the Official Journal of the European Union. External advice might be sought for the analysis and evaluation of applications.

The new telecom rules that will be proposed in October include suitable provisions to establish a generic mechanism to deal with similar future pan-European cases (see IP/06/874).

When will operators be selected?

The aim is to bring the 2 GHz bands into use as soon as possible while ensuring fairness for potential applicants. However, first the European Parliament and EU Council of Telecom Ministers must agree on the Commission Proposal. Then following the publication of a call for proposals the applications of interested companies need to be assessed, and the successful candidates selected.

The target date for completing the EU selection process is early 2009. It is expected that authorisations by relevant national authorities will follow shortly after the selection process.

Who can apply?

Any candidate operator of systems providing mobile satellite services established in the EU can apply. While satellite communications require high upfront investments (e.g. satellite manufacturing), several satellite companies have already declared their interest in applying.

Where will the services be deployed?

This depends on the operator's proposed service. The geographical coverage is one of the criteria that will be assessed in the selection process. It is obviously in the operator's interest to reach as many potential customers as possible by serving an area as wide as possible.

How many services could there be potentially?

The number of services to be provided by the selected systems is undetermined at the moment. Many industry players are seriously interested in being selected to provide a number of services over the 30 MHz available for uplink and downlink, but the eventual number of selected systems will partly depend on the frequency capacity they require. However, the selected systems themselves are generally expected to be capable of carrying a variety of mobile satellite services depending on spectrum efficiency options and business models.

For instance, emergency communications and mobile television services can potentially sit on the same system. Besides the number of services, the potential number of users is expected to be important, as satellite systems typically have a much wider geographical coverage area than other types of communication networks.

Will the selected candidates receive a "European licence" and pay a "European licence fee"?

No. Only the selection of the operators of systems of mobile satellite services will be made at European level. Operators will be "licensed" or "authorised" by each Member State, subject to a number of harmonised authorisation conditions.

Some Member States impose specific fees for using radio spectrum, others don't. This is not expected to change. Nor is a European fee for operators foreseen.

If there are fees, these will be determined nationally. However, any fee must be justified, transparent, non-discriminatory and proportionate to the intended purpose.

Who will benefit?

Operators will benefit directly from economies of scale which will result from consistent national authorisations across the EU. It will give encourage investment in the sector thanks to the certainly offered by a consistent EU approach.

Businesses and citizens will also benefit from the high speed services that will be offered by operators such as: high speed internet access, mobile TV services, emergency services, etc.

Mobile satellite systems also open up new geographical areas to services that were once considered too expensive to reach. This in turn, should invigorate local economies and help close the digital divide.

In all, the market for space and its applications is €70 billion globally. It is growing at an average annual rate of about 7%. When it comes to systems providing mobile satellite service, the new technological developments allowing them to be complemented by ground components are likely to increase the importance of such systems as compared to previous mobile satellite service systems.

What is the link between this initiative and the strategy favouring DVB-H and the take-up of mobile TV in Europe?

Mobile satellite systems are recognised in the strategy on mobile television as an interesting platform for mobile television (see IP/07/1118). Many experts consider terrestrial and satellite systems as complementary in this regard. Hybrid satellite/terrestrial systems are indeed developing having the capacity of greater coverage than terrestrial-only systems. DVB-SH is such a system consisting of DVB-H adapted for S-band and the hybrid (satellite/terrestrial) operation concept.

The 2 GHz spectrum bands have not been earmarked for any specific services – besides being provided by systems providing mobile satellite service – or applications. The pan-European selection process is foreseen to be technology and service neutral.

See also IP/07/1243


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