Credit: C-Band Alliance

PARIS — The C-Band Alliance of satellite operators asking U.S. regulators to allow them to negotiate the sale of C-band spectrum to terrestrial 5G networks has published a commitment to current customers in an attempt to assuage concerns about future service.

The commitment largely restates what the operators have been saying in the year since Intelsat, since joined by SES, Eutelsat and Telesat, first floated the proposal of what they call a “market-based solution” to the FCC’s demand that spectrum be freed up for 5G.

Key to their commitment is that their proposal clears U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approval intact — a scenario whose probability is impossible to guess.

The C-Band Alliance wants to ease the concerns of its customers by making this commitment. But much depends on what the FCC actually decides. Credit: C-Band Alliance

“We will stand by this commitment, assuming our proposal is adopted by the FCC in all material respects,” the alliance says in its commitment, submitted to the FCC.

While FCC officials have spoken highly of the C-Band Alliance’s idea, they have also suggested that the alliance’s proposal of ceding 100 MHz of the 500 MHz now reserved for satellite C-band use in the United States is not nearly enough.

“There is the possibility of a slippery slope, that we will have to battle to limit this,” said one alliance member. “Things get complicated beyond the first 100 MHz.”

Satellite operators outside the United States have echoed these concerns, saying that the pressure on the alliance to provide a larger chunk of spectrum will be enormous.

Some of the guarantees made by the C-Band Alliance could depend on how much compensation the satellite operators are given by 5G terrestrial operators. Credit: C-Band Alliance

The alliance offers C-band customers compensation for any hardware-related costs they incur to adapt to the reduction of C-band spectrum available to them, “including hardware and its installation, equipment rentals [e.g. cranes/lifts), dual illumination of uplinks and reasonable labor costs (stipend) with all the transition costs covered” by the alliance.

The second material unknown in the alliance’s proposal is whether 5G terrestrial network operators will enter into a bidding war for the spectrum. This assumption is far from certain but is implicit in the run-up in Intelsat’s stock price in the past year.

Whether alliance members will agree to launch new satellites to make up for any current capacity lost in the 5G transaction — meaning a constant transponder supply even with less spectrum — if the proceeds are far lower than expected is not clear either.