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IAFI counter comments on the TRAI Consultation for satellite spectrum

ITU-APT Foundation of India (IAFI) during its counter comments to the TRAI Consultation Paper on assignment of spectrum for space-based services noted that almost 75% of the comments received by TRAI are in favour of the Administrative Assignment of Satellite Spectrum.

IAFI believes that the very limited number of respndents who have sought auctions is due to their general lack of understanding on how satellite operators effectively share the spectrum in the same geographical locations and coordinate among each other.

IAFI in its counter comments has said that the satellite operators have been coexisting for decades all over the world and many new satellite operators are currently carrying out coordination to operate in the same frequency ranges. Specifically, coexistence between satellite networks is based on either a sufficient angular separation on the GSO arc or on coordination. Furthermore, there is absolutely no evidence that distances may be required between NGSO gateways in order for them to coexist.

Coexistence between NGSO systems is established by bi-lateral coordination discussions in which analysis are carried out by the different operators, considering the relevant provisions of the ITU Regulations. The capability to share and the coordination that satellite operator’s carryout allows for efficient spectrum utilization, while terrestrial mobile network can coexist only thanks to splitting the spectrum and having it allocated on an exclusive basis. We would also like to point out that, the assumption that terrestrial mobile services and satellite services are the same is incorrect, especially in the case of satellite services using microwave frequencies (C, Ku, Ka). The purported analogy between terrestrial access spectrum and the satellite one is unfounded, as the two services, while both providing connectivity, are intrinsically different in the physics of the link (i.e., sharing feasibility) and in the economic and societal aspects.

Cellular mobile is reaching billions of customers with corresponding revenues. Satellite service provision is, in comparison, niche, but indispensable, filling in the gaps in terrestrial service provision to guarantee safety, connectivity and equal opportunity. There are no small hand-held satellite devices operating in microwave bands and there are orders of magnitude of difference in terms of the number of customers and revenue. IAFI believes that the idea of equating services and suggesting a fair competition on spectrum pricing is nonsensical in nature.

IAFI has also noted that the satellite operators will not be able to compete in auctions with mobile operators, as the overall business model for the same is completely different. This would lead to mobile operators winning the satellite spectrum auctions and becoming the exclusive “gatekeepers” of satellite usable spectrum in the country. Subsequently, the auction winner would be the “spectrum gate keeper” with which satellite operators would have to negotiate a private contract agreement in a non-transparent process, in order to be able to use spectrum that could be shared in the first place. This will lead to a monopolistic or semi-monopolistic situation, hampering competitivity, limiting the amount of spectrum usable, and therefore the achievable performances, and, ultimately, damaging the users. Furthermore, the aspect of possible “competition” between the two different services needs to be carefully represented.

IAFI also would like to highlight that, the argument suggesting satellite spectrum sharing is unachievable and that band segmentation is the only interference solution disregards the established practices within the satellite industry. Both GSO and NGSO operators have demonstrated that efficient spectrum sharing is possible. Thus, the notion that band segmentation is the only solution is non-sense, since the industry’s track record shows that sharing spectrum is not only achievable but also the most efficient way to utilize this scarce resource.

Furthermore, the “same service same rule” assertion fails when comparing mobile cellular and satellite services due to their unique operational characteristics and spectrum usage. Mobile services target densely populated areas and require exclusive spectrum use to avoid interference, leading to high spectrum costs. On the other hand, satellite services provide critical connectivity to rural and underserved areas, operating on a non-exclusive basis, which allows for spectrum sharing among operators. Hence, a “right rule for the right service” approach should be adopted to ensure a balanced 4 spectrum allocation that takes into account each service’s distinct needs and societal value.

The critique against the ‘first-come-first-served’ (FCFS) basis of administrative allocation, invoking the Supreme Court’s stance, overlooks the unique nature of satellite spectrum. As pointed out by several other submissions, while the Supreme Court’s critiqued FCFS in certain scenarios, judgment has also recognized that auction is not the only method for spectrum allocation. Unlike terrestrial services, satellite spectrum supports efficient sharing among multiple operators, without causing interference. Therefore, administrative allocation for satellite spectrum, a resource fundamentally shared rather than exclusive, remains an effective approach that fosters competition, innovation, and public welfare.

IAFI has further reiterated that that the countries’ broadband penetration in rural area could not reach to even 30% till date, as TSPs/ISPs are investing only in the urban areas considering the poor chances of return on investment, in extending terrestrial network to rural area. Even Govt. of India investments in Bharat-Net project could not succeed in bring up the rural broadband penetration. On the other hand, satellite communication can tackle the territorial barriers in rural area due to their vast coverage, the advent of millimeter-wave 5 technology and the much-needed privatization of the space industry in reducing cost. Satellite communication can contribute in increasing broadband penetration in rural and remote areas by providing wide coverage, quick deployment, scalability, bridging the digital divide, cost-effectiveness, flexibility, and disaster resilience. BCS Bureau

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