GSM Assn. suggests regulators divvy up Q/V-band

March 16, 2017

Veena Rawat, senior spectum advisor to the GSM Association, proposed to use the untapped Q/V-band spectrum to craft a new way for satellite and terrestrial wireless interests to share frequency bands. Credit: ITU

Veena Rawat, senior spectum advisor to the GSM Association, proposed to use the untapped Q/V-band spectrum to craft a new way for satellite and terrestrial wireless interests to share frequency bands.

Credit: ITU


WASHINGTON — The terrestrial wireless industry’s GSM Association is proposing that radio spectrum regulators use the largely untapped Q/V-band radio spectrum as a template for frequency sharing with satellite systems.

Veena Rawat, who as GSMA’s senior spectrum advisor is often deployed to satellite-centric conferences to make the case for co-existence with satellite systems, said there’s still time to lay out ground rules before these frequencies become part of the turf war that is C-, Ku- and Ka-band.

“The satellite folks are not there and the mobile folks are not there,” Rawat said March 8 during the Satellite 2017 conference here. “Let’s come u with realistic parameters and come to the table and talk about how we can share — and not close doors prematurely.”

The impending arrival of 5G mobile networks, while still not fully defined, has given the terrestrial mobile sector, led by GSMA, a fresh appetite for additional spectrum.

Terrestrial wireless networks and component builders are preparing for the next World Radiocommunication Conference, WRC-19, to ask regulators for additionalfrequencies, including some that are used by satellite companies.

5G mobile: Mainly for urban areas, or for everywhere?

Satellite operators have said GSMA and its proxies appear to want spectrum covering vast swaths of territory, not just the densely populated urban areas, and that satellite systems will have trouble operating in a 5G-saturated environment.

Rawat appeared to agree that “5G needs coverage. 5G is not just high-density areas.” But she insisted that Q/V-band could be allocated between terrestrial and satellite spectrum in a way that maximizes the potential of both.

Jose Albuquerque, chief of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) satellite division, agreed that Rawat’s proposal was appealing.

“What Veena said makes a lot of sense,” Albuquerque said. “Veena rightly says that V-band is virgin territory, where we could start from scratch. But when you try to adopt a sharing policy it’s a lot more difficult than saying, ‘5G will be in the urban areas.’ Quite frankly, in the comments we received during our Spectrum Frontiers proceeding, the terrestrial players were not settling for urban areas.”

Albuquerque said one possible model is to divide a given geographic area. In one area, satellite Earth stations would have priority and terrestrial users would need to refrain from interfering with them. In another, terrestrial networks could deploy anywhere they wanted, and satellite operators would deploy at their own risk.

Yvon Henri, head of the UN International Telecommunication Union’s space services department, questioned whether Rawat’s habitual reasonableness is a true reflection of the terrestrial sector’s willingness to share spectrum.

For the ITU, no sign of peace between satellite and terrestrial

“Are we really sure that mobile is ready to share?” Henri said. “It was a surprise, listening to Veena, and difficult to understand why there has been so much distrust between the terrestrial and space communities. Looking at what’s happening in some of the ITU study groups, that distrust is still there.”

Several satellite fleet operators say 5G is a welcome event for their business because it will force terrestrial interests to understand that they cannot do 5G on their own. They need satellites to offload traffic to avoid clogging the networks.

For the satellite industry, 5G may be the key that unlocks a customer set measured in the hundreds of millions, for the Internet of Things, the connected automobile and other applications where satellites’ geographic reach is an advantage.

Just as Rawat has made the rounds of satellite industry conferences such as Satellite 2017, satellite fleet operators are mixing more often with terrestrial mobile operators. Several attended the recent Mobile World Congress in Madrid, Spain.

Corporate alliances may force spectrum sharing

And if the two camps are unable to bury the hatchet on their own, they may be forced to do so by their corporate parents.

AT&T’s purchase of U.S. satellite-television provider DirecTV, satellite broadband provider EchoStar’s being owned by spectrum speculator Charlie Ergen, the recent proposed merger of startup satellite internet constellation provider OneWeb with established fleet operator Intelsat, arranged by terrestrial mobile network operator SoftBank Group of Japan — all these arrangements point to a possible merging of interests.

Rawat added that the chairman of GSMA is Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman of Bharti mobile network operator Bharti Airtel — and one of OneWeb’s original equity investors. Qualcomm Inc., a major provider of mobile chipsets, is also a OneWeb investor.

“I don’t see them as always competing,” Rawat said. “There is already so much happening.”

Albuquerque, addressing the Q/V-band proposal directly, said the problem comes when an unexpected breakthrough arrives to upset the previous allocation of territory.

“Suppose Boeing builds this marvelous V-band system,” Albuquerque said, referring to a Boeing satellite constellation proposal whose financial credibility remains unclear. “They may then make the case that they should get more spectrum. Or suppose we have no V-band satellite systems and there’s a big deployment of terrestrial — hypothetical at this point, but there too we could move” the previously defined border.


Peter B. de Selding