Multichoice, Intelsat Opposes Migration Of VSAT Systems To Ku-band

MultiChoice said the satellite industry depends on continued access to the 3600 – 4200 MHz spectrum for future satellite deployments due to restoration demand by incumbents and new services.

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South Africa’s pay-TV operator MultiChoice and satellite operator Intelsat are opposed to the introduction of Broadband Fixed Wireless Access (BFWA) in the C-Band or the migration of VSAT systems to the Ku-band.

MultiChoice and Intelsat were responding to the draft Radio Frequency Migration Plan 2018 gazetted by ICASA on 24 August 2018.

The plan provides for, among others, the background and basis of the Radio Frequency Migration Plan, identification of the radio frequency bands where migration may be required and make proposals regarding such frequency migration as may be required; and identify the radio frequency bands which are subject to a feasibility study.

The draft Plan states:

  • The sub-band 3600 – 3800 Mhz could be used for BFWA where frequency sharing with FS PTP and/or FSS is feasible.
  • The Authority has decided that: VSAT systems should be migrated to the Ku-band…”; and
  • VSAT links should be migrated into [the Ku-Band (10700 – 11700 MHz) band as per SADC proposed common sub-allocation/utilization.

“We reiterate our concern and objection to the Authority proposing to migrate VSAT in the sub-band 3600 – 3800 MHz to the Ku-Band for purposes of accommodating BFWA,” Thabo Makenete, GM: Technical Regulatory at MultiChoice, said in a written response to ICASA.

MultiChoice, M-Net and Orbicom have consistently objected to the introduction of BFWA into the C-band.

The C-band has been a cornerstone of many satellite services for decades. In addition to its key function in providing connectivity within and to areas of high rainfall, where other available bands are inappropriate, the C-band is used for a number of critical functions across Africa.

Intelsat provides an extensive C-band satellite capacity over South Africa, playing a key role in the global telecommunications infrastructure in the following key areas: DTT, video signal contribution and distribution, VSAT networks (ATM, corporate networks), cellular backhaul, disaster recovery, and network restauration.

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“For satellite communication to play their critical and vital role in the telecommunications landscape of South Africa and globally, they need continued, sustainable and harmonised access to spectrum,” Marie Amandine Bhika, assistant general counsel at Intelsat said in a written response to ICASA.

“We appreciate that the 3600 – 3800 MHz band is proposed to be opened to BFWA. However, we believe that measures to protect satellite networks from their resulting interference and critical coordination, including geographic separation , is possible.

“Furthermore, without internationally agreed framework for introduction of BFWA in the C-band, lack of economies of scale will limit the availability of the devices, and therefore severely hindrance benefits gained from the introduction of BFWA in this band. The benefits of BFWA over existing VSAT system should be carefully assessed in light of this.”

South African citizens benefit from live news reporting from around the world, which often uses satellite communication; from weather forecasts that are informed by satellite observations taken outside South Africa; and when travelling on aircraft that provide in-flight broadband connectivity and with future autonomous vehicles all rely on satellite communications.

Further, a single satellite usually provides services to a wide geographic area.

“Despite these clear benefits, the Authority has not provided any rationale for the proposal to migrate VSAT systems out of this critical band. There is no comparison of the benefits of BFWA over existing VSAT systems, which would at least provide some reasoning for the Authority’s decision,” said Makenete.

MultiChoice said the satellite industry depends on continued access to the 3600 – 4200 MHz spectrum for future satellite deployments due to continued demand by incumbent and new services.

The pay-TV operator said that, in practice, migration would not be feasible for the following reasons:

  • Migration to other bands would require existing satellite service providers to revisit long-term commercial arrangements with Earth Station operators.
  • Migration to other bands could require extensive renegotiation between service providers and satellite operators.
  • Earth Station operators currently using frequencies in the 3600 – 4200 MHz band have limited scope to transition to other bands, as many other bands are already extensively used by other services.
  • There are no guarantees that this time-consuming and costly process will identify alternative C-Band capacity, which may result in lapses in, or full termination of, services to customers in South Africa and beyond.

“We therefore oppose the introduction of BFWA in the C-Band or the migration of VSAT systems to the Ku-band.,” said Makenete.

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