Pearse O'Donohue, director of future networks at the European Commission's DG-Connect, says the satellite industry is being overly defensive about the commission's policy on eliminating the digital divide in Europe. If any industry should be worried, he said, it's terrestrial mobile. Credit: European Commission Pearse O’Donohue, director of future networks at the European Commission’s DG-Connect, says the satellite industry is being overly defensive about the commission’s policy on eliminating the digital divide in Europe. If any industry should be worried, he said, it’s terrestrial mobile. Credit: European Commission

BRUSSELS — A senior official working on broadband policy at the European Commission gave a detailed rebuttal to satellite industry complaints that the commission is still swooning over fiber connectivity to the exclusion of satellite deployment.

Pearse O’Donohue, director of future networks at DG-Connect, said Jan. 24 that the commission’s telecom directive is scrupulously neutral and that it’s the terrestrial mobile industry, not the satellite sector, that should worry about its place in a 5G world. 

Here are excerpts from O’Donohue’s remarks:

The satellite industry is constantly telling the commission that we need to be clear about the role of satellite. Our key focus is the digital single market. 

It’s a very ambitious program, with a series of specific actions.

Last September, our gigabit connectivity package had a specific action plan on 5G, which is the next generation of telecommunications, as well as having support schemes for public authorities rolling out WiFi, for example.

Satellite sector shouldn’t be defensive

When you look at what these next-generation systems will look like, the satellite industry doesn’t have to be on the defensive. In fact the industry that needs to be on the defensive is the terrestrial mobile industry. 5G is not just a linear continuation from 4G. It’s not a single communications technology. It is a vision for a platform of technologies, which integrates different technologies. 

Look at the vision the commission has put forward with regard to the digital single market, which responds to what is the key objective: Growth, competitiveness and jobs. You will see there is a very important place for satellites.

We do have ambitions with regard to speeds, with regards to the robustness of connectivity.

Looking forward, we are hoping we will have speeds even in remote areas of 100 mbps. That is something where with the terabit-per-second-throughput satellite technologies the industry is now working on, the satellite industry will be not just well-placed, but in some cases — despite our efforts for fiber roll-out — will be the only player able to provide that ambition in rural communities — in remote farms, for example.

For that to happen the satellite community has to be part of discussions. The satellite industry is already playing a full role in the 5G action plan development in the 5G PPP research and development platform.

There is a challenge for the satellite communication industry. I remember from the early broadband days, about 10 years ago, when the satellite community was not happy with the commission. I know that you have moved on from that.

The commission, with the support of the European Parliament, has stated a set of very ambitious targets for the digital economy in Europe. there is a role for the satellite community and we need to work with you to realize that role.

How do you answer satellite industry concerns about fiber bias? 

I know something about the sensitivities of this industry. If it doesn’t actually see the word ‘satellite’ mentioned then there’s a problem. That’s your problem. The commission’s approach is that we do not favor any technology. In reaching the gigabit society… we are familiar with the fact that already, because of their unwillingness to invest in certain areas, mobile terrestrial will be hard-pressed to deliver it. Of course we are setting certain objectives.

On technology neutrality: The 5G policy which we are putting into place is not about an infrastructure or a network. It’s a platform approach. What we are pushing the telecommunications providers, terrestrial or non-terrestrial, to provide seamless connectivity and to have a custom fit. Satellite can provide that and satellite is definitely part of the game.


Peter B. de Selding on LinkedinPeter B. de Selding on Twitter
Peter B. de Selding
Peter B. de Selding
Peter de Selding is a Co-Founder and editor for He started SpaceIntelReport in 2017 after 26 years as the Paris Bureau Chief for SpaceNews where he covered the commercial satellite, launch and the international space businesses. He is widely considered the preeminent reporter in the space industry and is a must read for space executives. Follow Peter @pbdes