Getting Ahead of the Change

Protecting satellite C-band spectrum and accelerating 5G growth

Imagine the chaos that would ensue if airlines suddenly had to share the same airport gates with buses. Neither mode of transportation would be able to function properly, leading to unacceptable service to customers of both transports. Passengers could no longer depend upon air transportation, and airlines would no longer be able to guarantee their schedules or earn a return on their fleet investment. 

This is an apt analogy for the potential consequences of joint-use C-band spectrum between satellite operators and mobile wireless providers, a topic that has been greatly debated for years and recently re-emerged following the FCC’s Notice of Inquiry (NOI) request. Over 11 technical studies have demonstrated that joint-use of C-band spectrum between satellite and wireless networks can cause significant interference issues. We know that it could result in a loss of quality and reliability for U.S. television broadcasters, causing irreparable harm to their businesses and putting at risk the billions of dollars in satellite infrastructure investments. Mobile operators will argue that tapping into the C-band spectrum will help accelerate their 5G roll-out initiatives, which we support because it will drive technological growth and American consumers will greatly benefit. So, what’s the answer? Who wins? How are we going to settle this battle for spectrum?

It’s not about winning or losing.  It’s about working together to proactively develop a market-based solution that meets the needs of our customers, on both sides. Innovative and creative ideas can be deployed so that a managed joint-use of spectrum could be implemented. For satellite operators, it’s about providing ubiquitous high-quality connectivity for broadcasters with technical certainty of no interference and stability in their distribution network of choice. For wireless providers, it’s about accelerating the deployment of 5G services to benefit the American economy and its consumers.

So, what does that market-based solution look like?

First, let’s dig a little deeper into why C-band spectrum is so important and the critical services it provides.

Some would have you to believe that the C-band downlink is “underutilized.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. In addition to the distribution of programming to cable headends, the reality is that approximately 13 million households do not have cable, telco or satellite TV service, and these citizens depend exclusively on C-band spectrum for radio and television programming through direct-to-home (“DTH”) providers and over-the-air broadcast television stations.  C-band spectrum is also used for telecommunications infrastructure, certain governmental aeronautical applications and private data networks in the United States, essential to operations and driving commerce across the country.

Allowing mobile phone companies and others to also use this spectrum, without carefully managed joint-use of the spectrum could result in interference that disrupts television and radio programming. In addition to the harm such interference would cause American viewers and listeners, interference would also have a negative economic impact on national broadcasters, video content providers and the satellite operators that have invested billions of dollars on distribution networks built around the viability and requisite quality of the C-band downlink.

With all of the critical services C-band provides, how do we make it available for wireless providers while preserving its reliability and quality for the current users who depend upon this spectrum?

Intelsat and Intel recently responded to the FCC’s NOI request with a creative and proactive market-based approach that could make the necessary spectrum available over the next several years. The proposal suggests economic incentives to encourage Fixed Satellite Service operators to voluntarily clear portions of their C-band in major metropolitan regions across the U.S. The economic incentives will compensate the sector given the expensive and complex technical solutions needed to affect the joint-use, as well as taking into account the significant opportunity cost that comes with limiting our use of our licenses.

Our approach would be implemented much faster than if the FCC took the lead in imposing such regulations because Intelsat is a majority license-holder of C-band in the United States and is best equipped to manage this process. Our proposal is carefully created and satisfies all entities involved. The satellite community will have technical certainty, broadcast quality will be maintained and infrastructure investments will be protected. Wireless providers will have the bandwidth they need to deploy 5G services to American consumers so they will have access to a more advanced mobile broadband infrastructure.

The 5G service roll-out will drive growth for technology companies, which will stimulate the U.S. economy. Americans will benefit from the socio-economic advantages of having access to the most advanced broadband infrastructure in the world.  We think it is a win/win situation, and that an accelerated, market-based solution is the best solution of all.

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