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ITU Rules for Avanti in Frequency Dispute with SES

Avanti's Hylas 2 satellite. Credit: Orbital Sciences artist's concept

PARIS — International regulators voted Nov. 15 in favor of Britain and Ka-band satellite operator Avanti Communications, and against Luxembourg and fleet operator SES, in a dispute over rights to Ka-band frequencies at 31 degrees and 31.5 east longitude in geostationary orbit.

Meeting in Geneva, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Radio Regulations Board ruled in favor of the startup British satellite operator and against the world’s second-largest satellite telecommunications provider.

“Each case needs to be considered based on its own merits and particular circumstances,” the board said in its assessment of the issue. As it often does, the board invited Britain and Luxembourg, and the two companies, “to cooperate with each other in the spirit of good will and mutual respect to achieve coordination of their satellite systems.”

SES had stationed its Astra 3B satellite, launched in May 2010, at 31.5 degrees east and switched on its Ka-band payload for about two weeks before moving the satellite to its assigned slot. SES had hoped to take advantage of the loose regulatory regime that only recently has forced operators to leave satellites at a given slot for at least three months before declaring the slot registered.

The ITU subsequently ruled that the SES maneuver could not be considered as confirming a registration, and that SES’s reservation had expired.

London-based Avanti performed a similar maneuver in 2011, stationing its first satellite, Hylas 1, at 31 degrees for 16 days before sending it to its assigned slot.

Avanti’s reservation at 31 degrees expired in May. Because of several delays with various causes, the Hylas 2 satellite intended for that position was not launched until August.

Britain’s Ofcom, the national telecommunications regulator, urged the ITU to give Avanti the benefit of the doubt, arguing that Avanti is a bona fide satellite operator with verifiable capital investment intended for each of its slots, and that a three-month delay should not scuttle the company’s business plan.

SES plans to operate the Astra 5B satellite, with a Ka-band payload, at the 31.5 degrees east position starting in 2013. Luxembourg and SES argued that if SES’s 2010 maneuver with the Astra 3B satellite was insufficient to reserve a slot, then Avanti’s 2011 attempt should be deemed invalid as well.

A lower-level ITU body had already signaled that it accepted the British/Avanti argument.

The Nov. 16 decision by the Radio Regulations Board said Avanti’s stationing of a satellite at the 31.5 degrees position in January 2011 “was within the seven-year regulatory time limit,” which had a deadline of May 19, 2012.

ITU officials have said the World Radiocommunication Conference that ended early this year set rules on how long a satellite must stay at a given position — three months has now been accepted — but that these rules were not formalized until this year.

Satellite positioning before then, ITU has said, has been subject to the regulators’ interpretation. In the past, ITU bodies have looked with indulgence on new satellite operators and those from less-developed nations, especially when there is no doubt that a satellite is being built and does not exist only on paper.

That appears to have been the case here. The board concluded that “there was no reservation of orbit and spectrum capacity without actual use.”

Hylas 2 has been operating at 31 degrees east since August. SES will now enter negotiations with Avanti from a position of relative weakness. Whether that will affect the operations of the Ka-band payload of Astra 5B — the satellite’s main payload is in Ku-band — is unclear.

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