Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Ofcom UK Grant Inmarsat EAN License for Satellite Broadband on Airplanes


The telecoms regulator has today given Inmarsat's plan to improve broadband connectivity on-board aircraft a boost by granting them a wireless telegraphy licence for ground based stations using the 2GHz band, which forms part of its Satellite based European Aviation Network (EAN).

The regulator's decision supports a change in the use of spectrum (frequency bands 1980 – 1995MHz and 2170 – 2185MHz) with respect to Inmarsat's complementary ground-based network (CGC), which will make use of both its Satellites and ground-based DA2G links to the aircraft. The effort has won support from British Airways (BA) and other airlines, which will use it to support faster in-flight WiFi.

Inmarsat plans to use the 1980 – 1995MHz frequency band (Mobile Satellite Services uplink band) for Satellite Terminal-to-satellite and for Ground-facing Terminal to Ground-based Station transmission. On the other side it plans to use the 2170 – 2185MHz band (MSS downlink band) for satellite-to-Satellite Terminal and for Ground-based Station to Ground-facing Terminal transmission.

However the EAN has also attracted competition complaints from rival Satellite operator ViaSat, which earlier this year accused Inmarsat of "misusing spectrum" and gaining an "unfair competitive advantage" by "creating a monopoly for European in-flight connectivity" (here).

Similarly Ofcom received representations which argued that Inmarsat's EAN was not consistent with the EU legal framework on the basis that its ground-based stations did not fall within the definition of CGCs. In the end the regulator said it was "satisfied" that the ground-based stations would constitute CGCs, as defined in the EU Decision and the related Regulations.

Regulator's Statement

Based on the information provided by Inmarsat, Ofcom is satisfied that (if the EAN is implemented in the way described by Inmarsat) the ground-based stations will constitute CGCs as defined in the EU Decision and the Regulations; and will comply with the applicable common conditions.

Ofcom has therefore decided to grant Inmarsat an authorisation to transmit on the Frequency Bands using the ground-based stations, pursuant to section 8 of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 ("WTA"). This authorisation will be issued shortly.

Back in March Inmarsat told ISPreview.co.uk that they were "on track" to make the new EAN operational during H2 2017 and this appears to be progressing. When completed, the Terrestrial Segment of Inmarsat's EAN will comprise around 300 Ground-based Stations across Europe. Each of the Ground-based Stations has a range of 80-150km.

As at June 2017, some 41 sites had already been completed and Inmarsat was at the time estimating that the "majority" of their Ground-based Stations would be completed by 30th September 2017. A date is also given for when all Ground-based Stations would be in place but curiously Ofcom has chosen to redact that information.

However it is noted that some aspects of the new EAN aren't quite ready yet. For example, the Compact S-Band Mobile Satellite Service (CSM Satellite Terminal) won't be commercially available until the end of December 2017 and the separate Cobham Satellite Terminal is "expected to complete its aviation safety certification by March 2018." Mind you the EAN can technically be provided without the Satellite Terminal but to get the best coverage you need both the Satellite and ground side of the network.

Ofcom's Decision

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