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ABS, Hispasat and Star One cry foul over C-band Alliance

ABS-3A satellite. Credit: Boeing artist's concept

WASHINGTON — Three regional satellite operators with C-band coverage over the United States have complained to U.S. telecom regulators about being left out of a group led by four of the world’s largest satellite operators to arrange a proposed spectrum transfer to the wireless industry.

The three operators, Hispasat of Spain, ABS of Bermuda and Star One of Brazil, say they have tried to negotiate with Intelsat, SES, Eutelsat and Telesat — the leading satellite operators involved in arranging for the likely transfer of some C-band frequencies to cellular companies for 5G — but were “stonewalled by the big four,” according to Phil Spector, a long-time telecom lawyer now working as a consultant for ABS. 

ABS-3A
Images shows some of ABS-3A’s C-band coverage. Credit: ABS

Spector and other ABS, Hispasat and Star One representatives met with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission this month amid concerns they and potentially other small fleet operators will not receive money from the proposed transfer of spectrum, an amount telecom analysts estimate could total billions of dollars. 

“They are going to allocate this money among themselves, and at least to date they are not going to share that money with these three smaller operators,” Spector said in an interview. “We think that’s wrong. If the FCC adopts this proposal for the C-band and allows these four operators to realize substantial sums of money from giving up part of the C-band, the same logic would apply to these three smaller companies.”

Despite the difference in scale, Spector said the three operators have invested “hundreds of millions of dollars” in satellites that cover all or part of the United States in the C-band. That investment included getting market access from the FCC, he said. 

In their presentation to the FCC, ABS, Hispasat and Star One admit they have not generated any revenue from C-band services in the U.S., but say they all intend to. ABS’s all-electric propulsion satellite ABS-3A has a projected end of life in 2042, for example, leaving more than two decades to line up customers. 

Amazonas-3 C-band coverage. Credit: Hispasat
Amazonas-3 C-band coverage. Credit: Hispasat

The plan put forward by Intelsat, Intel and SES, and later adopted by Eutelsat and Telesat, also includes provisions for “future foregone business opportunity costs.”

Luxembourg and U.S.-based Intelsat, Luxembourg-based SES, Paris-based Eutelsat and Telesat of Canada formed the C-band Alliance Oct. 1, creating an entity that will facilitate the transfer of spectrum and distribute proceeds from cellular companies that, under the satellite operators’ plan, are required to pay for replacement infrastructure and other costs associated with migrating satellite customers out of the band.

Members of the C-band Alliance control more than 90 percent of U.S. satellite C-band, which spans from 3.7 to 4.2 gigahertz, but not all of it.

In their presentation to the FCC, ABS said one of its six satellites, ABS-3A, has U.S. C-band coverage. Amazonas-3, one of Hispasat’s 11 satellites, also covers the U.S. in C-band. Star One says three of its seven satellites are “capable of transmitting to and from US points in the C-band,” though only one, Star One C1, has a coverage map showing U.S. C-band coverage.  

Embratel Star One's C-band footprint on its Star One C1 satellite. Credit: Star One
Embratel Star One’s C-band footprint on its Star One C1 satellite. Credit: Star One

In contrast, Intelsat has 26 satellites with full or partial C-band coverage of the U.S., SES has 18, Eutelsat has five and Telesat has three, based on numbers from the first half of this year.

Spector said executives from ABS and Hispasat met with members of the C-band Alliance in September during World Satellite Business Week, an annual Paris gathering of C-suite satellite industry executives, but that the meetings were fruitless.

“That’s what then led to the decision to make this presentation to the FCC,” he said.

Dianne Vanbeber, Intelsat vice president of investor relations, confirmed the meetings took place between the C-band Alliance founding members and the three regional operators, but declined to comment further.

In an Oct. 19 statement, the C-band Alliance said that “any operator that has C-band customer services in the continental U.S. that would be impacted by the proposed regulatory change is welcome to join the consortium.”

“The CBA aims to protect all users of C-band services in the United States, ensuring all transition expenses, such as filters, are installed correctly and at the CBA expense,” the group said.

Spector said the small fleet operators intend to voice their concerns again during the FCC’s comment window on the regulator’s C-band plan, which closes Oct. 29. 

“The value of their investment in the assets in space will be diminished,” if the plan is approved and satellite operators lose spectrum, he said, “so compensation is appropriate.”

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FIRST UP Satcom | Intelsat invests in AMN • Iridium gets $44 million DISA contract extension • NSR finds slow growth in satellite operator revenues

Iridium SNOC

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TOP STORIES

Intelsat invested in Africa Mobile Networks (AMN), a U.K.-headquartered group of companies with telecom infrastructure in Africa, to reach “ultra-rural” parts of the sub-Saharan side of the continent. Intelsat did not disclose the size of the investment. AMN seeks to fund, build and operate telecom networks for cellular operators that have struggled to reach isolated regions. AMN says it has a low-cost, solar-powered small-cell solution that can be set up in under six hours. As part of its agreement with Intelsat, AMN will use Intelsat satellite capacity for connectivity. Intelsat has 23 wide-beam satellites covering Africa, as well as high-throughput spot-beam coverage from Intelsat Epic. [Intelsat/AMN]

Iridium received a $44 million contract extension from the U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency, adding six months to a contract from 2013. Through the Enhanced Mobile Satellite Services (EMSS) contract, Iridium is tasked with providing unlimited global secure and unsecure voice, along with data and other services, for an unlimited number of Defense Department and other federal government subscribers. The five-year, $400 million EMSS contract was due to expire this month, but now extends to April. Iridium officials had suggested an extension was likely as the company negotiates a new contract. [Via Satellite]

Fixed satellite services operator revenues are growing slightly, but backlogs are thinning out as customers opt for shorter contracts, according to a report from Northern Sky Research. Analysts measured a 0.5 percent increase in aggregate operator revenues in 2017, but a 4 percent decrease in annual backlog growth rates. Satellite operators increased their fleet fill rates by 7 to 10 percent, thanks largely to growth from data customers and the transition to high-throughput satellites. [NSR]

MORE STORIES

A startup satellite operator has ordered a Falcon Heavy launch from SpaceX. Swedish company Ovzon said Tuesday it signed a contract with SpaceX for a Falcon Heavy launch of its first satellite no earlier than the fourth quarter of 2020. Ovzon is in the “final stage” of ordering that satellite, and paid Eutelsat $1.6 million earlier this year to move one of its satellites to an unspecified Ovzon orbital slot to preserve spectrum rights there. Ovzon joins several other companies and the U.S. Air Force as customers for SpaceX’s heavy-lift rocket, which performed its first and, to date, only launch in February. [SpaceNews]

Hispasat and Gilat have started a satellite broadband effort aimed at residential and corporate customers in Brazil. Hispamar, the Brazilian arm of Spain-based Hispasat, will use spot-beam capacity on Hispasat’s Amazonas-3 and Amazonas-5 satellites, which together cover roughly three-quarters of Brazil’s population, representing more than 145 million people and 48 million homes. Israel-based Gilat has installed its Sky Edge 2-c platform at Hispamar’s Caxias do Sul teleport, and is providing user terminals for the business initiative. [Hispasat]

The former CEO of OneWeb has left the company a month after a demotion. Eric Béranger has left OneWeb to “pursue new opportunities,” a company spokesperson said. Béranger, named CEO of the broadband constellation company in 2016, was reassigned to the roles of president and chief operating officer last month when the company hired Adrian Steckel as its new CEO. [SpaceNews]

OHB Italia will launch a satellite it is building for the Luxembourg government on an Arianespace rocket. OHB Italia, through a turnkey contract with Luxembourg’s Directorate of Defence, will launch the National Advanced Optical System (NAOS) satellite on a Vega or a Vega C rocket in 2022. NAOS is a 600-kilogram satellite under construction to last for seven years in a 500-kilometer orbit. Luxembourg intends to use the satellite project to increase its participation with European and North Atlantic Treaty Organization defense efforts. [Arianespace]

Another antenna company is joining the race to develop systems to support broadband constellations. ThinKom tested a phased-array antenna with the O3b constellation operated by SES in August and also announced plans to work with Telesat and the demonstration satellite currently in orbit for its planned broadband constellation. The company is hoping to secure business with planned satellite constellations, competing with startups like Kymeta and Phasor to offer the affordable ground systems needed for those constellations to be successful. [SpaceNews]

Aviation giant Rockwell Collins is offering space-based flight tracking through Aireon’s Automatic Dependent Surveillance — Broadcast (ADS-B) network. Aireon’s network of hosted payloads is launching aboard the Iridium Next constellation, of which 65 of 66 operational satellites are in orbit. The final launch, carrying the last operational satellite and nine spares, is planned for later this year. “Rockwell Collins customers benefit from the certainty of their aircraft’s position, even over oceans, polar regions, deserts, or jungles — all places where frequent position accuracy has historically been difficult to achieve,” said Bob Richard, Rockwell Collins senior director for ARINCDirect. [Rockwell Collins]

SpaceNews Senior Staff Writer Jeff Foust contributed to this newsletter.

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Intelsat: losing 200 or more megahertz of C-band will require new satellites

Intelsat-37e

WASHINGTON — Intelsat says some satellite operators will be forced to buy new spacecraft if U.S. telecom regulators demand the transfer of 200 or more megahertz of C-band spectrum from satellite operators to cellular companies.

The Federal Communications Commission’s point person for C-band has said on multiple occasions, including last week, that 5G cellular networks will need at least twice as much satellite spectrum as Intelsat and SES initially said the satellite industry could afford to surrender.

Speaking Oct. 2 at the Americas Spectrum Management Conference here, FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said that upcoming 5G cellular networks need “at least 200 to 300 megahertz” of satellite C-band, and that the spectrum needs to be made available fast, “not in five or 10 years down the road.”

Fleet operators Intelsat and SES, which together control more than 90 percent of the C-band in the United States, had asserted until the past few months that they needed the whole 500-megahertz band, but could find ways to cede 100 megahertz in light of mounting regulatory pressure. More recently the companies have admitted it would be possible to relinquish more of the band, but said every additional megahertz lost causes more difficulty in serving television broadcasters and other customers with fewer resources.

Speaking Oct. 2 at a Deutsche Bank event in Arizona, Intelsat’s vice president of investor relations, Dianne VanBeber, said the satellite operator’s initial C-band proposal for 100 megahertz “didn’t require a major rearchitecting of the band” like the higher proposed amounts will.

“As we start moving beyond our initial range, what really happens is you have to replace the capacity that you are taking away by building new satellites at new orbital locations,” she said.

VanBeber said satellite operators will need to find ways to replace transponders that can no longer be utilized if larger chunks of spectrum are required for 5G.

“The way I’ve been explaining it is if you have a 24-story apartment building, and all of a sudden the government says ‘from now on there’s only 18-story apartment buildings,’ you’ve got to recreate more buildings to pick up your six floors you just lost,” she said.

Intelsat is already at the beginning of a refresh for its North American broadcast fleet, having ordered one new satellite, Galaxy-30, from Orbital ATK (now Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems) in January. Last year the company said it was preparing three new satellites for the region, but it was not clear how big an impact U.S. spectrum policy changes would have on that plan.

Under the satellite operator-led C-band plan, the cost of new satellites resulting from the loss of spectrum would have to be covered by mobile network operators seeking to use the spectrum.

Intelsat, SES, Eutelsat and Telesat announced Oct. 1 the founding of the C-band Alliance — an entity that would oversee the transfer of spectrum and fills the role of a “transition facilitator” as designated by the FCC. O’Rielly said the formation of the C-band Alliance put the satellite operator plan in the lead over alternative spectrum reallocation ideas, such as an auction.

So far, the FCC has voted to open up C-band, but hasn’t decided precisely how it will transition spectrum. VanBeber said an FCC decision is expected in the April to June timeframe.

Satellite operators have not said how much spectrum beyond 100 megahertz they could give up. SES CEO Steve Collar said in July that the company is evaluating ways to yield more of the band.

“We’ve been pretty clear that we have a plan that closes for 100 megahertz,” he said during an earnings call. “We also acknowledge the desire for more spectrum to be freed up and we are working on it.”

SES warned it may need new satellites as a result of any spectrum transfer even before it joined forces with Intelsat in 2017, saying new C-band satellites would likely have “a cost ranging from $150 million to $250 million in capital expenditure per satellite.”

VanBeber said one way satellite operators might be able to clear more spectrum is if someone makes very efficient filtering technology for the transition band that will serve as a buffer between satellite and cellular signals. A “super hot filter” could reduce the size of the transition band, she said, which is presently projected to take up 50 megahertz.

The need for new satellites would likely absorb some of the money fleet operators anticipate receiving from cellular companies taking over swaths of C-band. Satellite operators have refused to quantify the proceeds they might receive, highlighting instead the necessity of an agreeable transition plan to ensure continuity of service to C-band-dependent customers.

Nonetheless, Intelsat’s stock value has soared nearly tenfold from the beginning of the year on optimism around C-band.

Jefferies analyst Giles Thorne wrote Oct. 2 that Intelsat could generate $3.9 billion from transferring C-band. SES could gain 3.6 billion euros ($4.1 billion), and Eutelsat some 395 million euros ($455 million).

“We think a 200 MHz commitment will emerge imminently,” he wrote, highlighting the FCC’s Oct. 29 deadline for comments on its C-band Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

Jacques Kerrest, Intelsat’s chief financial officer, alluded to using windfall proceeds to pay down Intelsat’s debt, which stood at $14.2 billion as of June 30.

“The real question that the company and the board will have to deal with — and depending on the amount of the proceeds, obviously —  is what kind of leverage we want to live with going forward,” he said.

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Telesat changes tune, joins C-band spectrum group

C-Band Alliance

DALLAS — Canadian fleet operator Telesat has joined Intelsat, SES and Eutelsat as part of an industry consortium it once threatened to oppose.

The four large satellite operators on Oct. 1 formalized the creation of a consortium called the “C-Band Alliance,” establishing a group to facilitate the transfer of some C-band spectrum from satellite operators to cellular operators.

The purpose of the C-Band Alliance is to fulfill the role of a “Transition Facilitator” outlined in the U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s plan to allow cellular signals in satellite airwaves. The FCC approved the plan in July.

Telesat had signalled its intent to fight such a consortium if the group placed Intelsat and SES in charge of distributing proceeds from cellular operators — funds required to pay for new infrastructure and other costs associated with migrating satellite customers out of C-band in the United States.

Dianne Vanbeber, Intelsat vice president of investor relations, declined to say how the consortium will allocate money from cellular operators.

“Overall, the Consortium agreement identifies the share of proceeds in an equitable fashion, but the exact percentages are not public information,” she said by email.

Telesat CEO Dan Goldberg said the company was able to find common ground with Intelsat, SES and Eutelsat that “gave Telesat the proper level of assurance that our customers’ requirements and our significant investments in infrastructure would be dealt with appropriately.”

“It’s also very much the case that, if the FCC does move forward with reallocating a portion of the C-band spectrum, any reallocation can be most coherently and effectively addressed in the context of an industry-wide solution, which should achieve the best outcome for the broadcasters that rely on satellite C-band infrastructure for the distribution of their important services as well as the terrestrial wireless players who are contemplating making significant investments in 5G infrastructure and bringing those services to market in a timely way,” he said by email.

Intelsat and SES control more than 90 percent of the C-band spectrum in the United States. Eutelsat and Telesat each have single-digit percentages.

In the United States, C-band is predominately used for satellite television broadcasting. Other countries, tropical nations in particular, use the band for a wider range of telecom services thanks to its strength during rainstorms.

In their joint statement, the four satellite operators made no mention of exactly how much C-band they would be willing to transfer. Intelsat and SES originally sought to open up 100 megahertz of the band, which stretches from 3.7 to 4.2 GHz. FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly has pushed for 200 to 300 MHz or more.

O’Reilly praised the formation of the C-Band Alliance in an Oct. 1 statement, saying it makes the satellite-operator-led plan the frontrunner over other options such as a spectrum auction.

“This announcement appears to be a great step to quickly and orderly reallocate the spectrum to commercial wireless use. It also further establishes the private market option as the lead proposal to do so,” he said.

O’Reilly also praised the selection of Preston Padden, a former consultant with past executive positions at ABC Television Network, Fox Broadcasting, the Walt Disney Company and American Sky Broadcasting (now part of Dish Network), as the alliance’s head of advocacy and government relations. Padden is an “experienced hand … who knows how to get projects completed,” O’Reilly said.

The satellite operators announced Bill Tolpegin, currently CEO of OTA Broadcasting, will be the alliance’s chief executive.

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Arianespace launches 100th Ariane 5, completes Intelsat Epic constellation

Ariane 5 100th Arianespace

WASHINGTON — European launch provider Arianespace completed the 100th launch of a heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket Sept. 25, carrying two satellites co-owned between Intelsat and partner satellite operators.

The rocket lifted off from the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana at 6:38 p.m. Eastern at the end of its 45-minute launch window, carrying the Horizons-3e and Intelsat-38/Azerspace-2 satellites.

The 6,400-kilogram Horizons-3e satellite from manufacturer Boeing separated from the rocket’s upper stage 28 minutes later, followed by the 3,500-kilogram Intelsat-38/Azerspace-2 from Space Systems Loral 14 minutes later. Luxembourg- and Washington-based Intelsat confirmed signal acquisition from both spacecraft shortly after separation.

Intelsat-38/Azerspace-2, a condosat satellite that houses distinct telecom payloads for Intelsat and Azerbaijani satellite operator Azercosmos, was originally due to launch in late May, but was delayed when the Indian space agency ISRO withdrew its co-passenger, the GSAT-11 satellite, from the mission for additional inspections. Ariane 5 rockets typically launch with two satellites at a time, requiring satellite operators to sync their schedules together for a mission.

Rather than coordinate with another operator, Intelsat was able to pair Intelsat-38/Azerspace-2 with another of its own satellites that was already scheduled for a late 2018 launch.

“Fortunately both satellites were ready at the same time,” Intelsat CEO Stephen Spengler, said in a Sept. 25 interview ahead of the launch.

The Ariane 5 launch marked Arianespace’s sixth mission of the year, and is one of a shrinking number of Ariane 5 launches to complete before the next-generation Ariane 6 takes over. Ariane 6 begins launching in 2020 and will operate at the same time as Ariane 5 for a three-year transition period that ends in 2023.

The Ariane 5 first launched in 1996. After a spat of failures in its early years, the Ariane 5 completed 82 consecutive successful missions from 2002 until this January when a rocket with the wrong coordinates placed two satellites in off-target orbits. Arianespace and the rocket’s manufacturer ArianeGroup implemented corrective measures to prevent a repeat of the errant launch.

More than half of the 207 satellites launched aboard Ariane 5 rockets have been for non-European customers, according to Arianespace. Telecom satellite operators around the world have relied on the Ariane 5 as a mainstay for placing their spacecraft in orbit, along with rockets from U.S. and Russian launch providers.  

The launch was also the 300th of an Arianespace-operated rocket. The company’s next mission is the Ariane 5 launch of BepiColombo, a Mercury-bound spacecraft for the European and Japanese space agencies on Oct. 19.

For Intelsat, the launch marks the completion of its “Epic” series of six high-throughput satellites designed for broadband and connectivity services globally. Horizons-3e brings high-throughput coverage in C- and Ku-band over the Asia Pacific. It is a joint venture satellite Intelsat co-financed and operates with Sky Perfect JSAT of Japan.

Spengler described Horizons-3e as “the most advanced satellite that we have ever had constructed.” The satellite features a “multiport amplifier” that enables Intelsat to adjust the power given to different beams in the satellite’s coverage, making it more responsive to changes in demand.

Intelsat-38/Azerspace-2 is a more “conventional” satellite, he said. Intelsat’s half of the Ku-band satellite supersedes Intelsat 12, supporting television broadcasts in Central and Eastern Europe and the Asia-Pacific, as well as broadband connectivity for corporate networks and government services in Africa. Spengler said the satellite has a steerable Ku-band beam that can be repositioned over a desired area in Africa within about 20 minutes. Government customers are expected to use the steerable beam, he said.

Azercosmos’ half of the satellite is the operator’s second telecom satellite. It’s first, Azerspace-1, launched in 2013 on an Ariane 5 and is partly used by Measat of Malaysia under the name Africasat-1a.

Intelsat is in its first year of a lower annual capital expenditure plan as the company shifts from heavy spending on satellites to focusing on generating revenue from those new assets.

Spengler said the next satellites Intelsat needs to replace are for television broadcast over North America, and are typically smaller and lower cost. Future high-throughput satellites, though further out, should be more reliant on software, enabling services “at a lower cost per bit and a lower aggregate capex,” he said.

Spengler said Intelsat is in the planning stages for what will follow the Epic satellites.

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Satellite operators spar on spectrum sharing

Spengler

PARIS — Chief executives of satellite operators took sharply divergent views on working with terrestrial mobile operators on access to spectrum, with some advocating for negotiations while another warned of making any deals.

The difference of opinions expressed during a panel at Euroconsult’s World Satellite Business Week here Sept. 10 comes as discussions continue on a potential transfer of C-band satellite spectrum to mobile operators for 5G services in the United States and next year’s World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) that will take up other satellite spectrum proposals.

Intelsat Chief Executive Steve Spengler, the leading advocate for the U.S. C-band spectrum proposal, argued that while C-band globally is important for Intelsat, the company felt that, in the United States, it needed to work out an arrangement that will hand over some C-band spectrum to terrestrial operators.

“The key here is protecting the incumbents while addressing the reality that the 5G situation had to be addressed one way or another,” he said. “We’d rather have a situation where we’re managing it, where we’re controlling this process, to get the right outcome.”

Supporting that proposal is SES, who with Intelsat controls the vast majority of C-band satellite spectrum in the United States. “It was a unique situation in the U.S. where there was no other practical alternative in terms of where this would go,” said Steve Collar, president and chief executive of SES. “This was an opportunity to create something that was genuinely a win-win.”

Viasat CEO Mark Dankberg, left, and Telesat CEO Daniel Goldberg at World Satellite Business Week in Paris (SpaceNews/Brian Berger)
Viasat CEO Mark Dankberg, left, and Telesat CEO Daniel Goldberg at World Satellite Business Week in Paris (SpaceNews/Brian Berger)

However, Mark Dankberg, chairman and chief executive of Viasat, took a very different view. While Viasat is not involved in the C-band spectrum discussions in the U.S., he said his experience with debates about spectrum sharing at other frequencies led him to be skeptical about working with terrestrial operators.

“I don’t really see the mobile operators as our friends, because if they really wanted satellite as part of 5G, they wouldn’t be trying to take existing spectrum away from us, which will make our services less capable and more expensive,” he said.

“We all need to be extremely wary” about the benefits of sharing satellite spectrum with terrestrial operators, he cautioned. “I think that issue about spectrum is a hugely important issue for us.”

Rupert Pearce, chief executive of Inmarsat, tried to strike a middle ground in the debate. “I think we don’t do a good enough job as a community educating the world about the potential important differentiating role of satellite in a 5G world, and we don’t do a good enough job holding our nose and going in to talk to the [mobile network operators] about why they should regard us as collaborators,” he said. The satellite industry, he said, needs to explain to companies and governments those cases where 5G services can be best provided by satellite.

While Spengler advocated for a C-band deal in the U.S., he said it’s still important for the satellite industry to advocate for other spectrum at next year’s WRC. “There is still a lot of uncertainty around Ka-band,” he said, including concerns that regulations may no longer be globally harmonized.

“We have to stay together globally to make sure that we advocate for our interests just as others will be doing for theirs,” he said.

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FIRST UP Satcom | Globalstar scraps FiberLight merger • Intelsat finds new Ariane 5 co-passenger • Nigerian companies critique NigComSat

Globalstar constellation

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Globalstar called off a merger orchestrated by owner Thermo Capital that would have combined the satellite operator with a Thermo Capital-owned landline company. The $1.65 billion arrangement was initially expected to close this quarter. Globalstar said there are no termination fees resulting from the canceled deal. Jay Monroe, chief executive of Globalstar and head of Thermo Capital, had been in a dispute with Jason Mudrick, a hedge fund manager with shares in Globalstar, over the merger. Mudrick secretly recorded a meeting with Monroe and used the tape in a July 3 trial in an effort to prove Monroe engineered a bad deal that overvalues assets he controls. [Seeking Alpha/Bloomberg]

Intelsat will use one of its own satellites as a co-passenger for an Ariane 5 mission it originally was sharing with the Indian space agency. The launch of the Intelsat-38/Azerspace-2 condosat, originally planned for May, will now launch in September with Horizons-3e, a joint venture satellite between Intelsat and Sky Perfect JSAT. The Indian space agency ISRO withdrew its GSAT-11 satellite in April to review its health. The Intelsat satellites bring coverage over Europe, Africa and Asia, with Horizons-3e bringing Asia-Pacific capacity that extends Intelsat’s high-throughput “Epic” coverage from regional to global. [Intelsat]

Nigerian telecom service providers say the nation’s state-run satellite operator has prices that are uncompetitive with other satellite operators. The president of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria said NigComSat has long had a challenge with capacity prices, leading companies to use foreign satellites instead. NigComSat-1R, the operator’s only satellite, has been in orbit since December 2011. Danasabe Hosea, a member of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, voiced concern that NigComSat-1R is underutilized, and said mandating the satellite’s use could save the country money. China EXIM Bank and China Great Wall Industry Corp. are financing the full $550 million NigComSat-2 and NigComSat-3 procurement, according to Nigerian Minister of Communications Adebayo Shittu. The two satellites will provide backup services for NigComSat-1R. [New Telegraph]

MORE STORIES

India’s decision to postpone the launch of a communications satellite earlier this year could prove costly. The Indian space agency ISRO postponed the launch of the GSAT-11 satellite on an Ariane 5 that was scheduled for May in order to ship the satellite back to India for inspections, which turned up no issues with the spacecraft. Arianespace has reportedly notified ISRO that it will reschedule the GSAT-11 satellite only if the agency provides at least partial payment for the future launch of two other satellites, GSAT-30 and 31, by Aug. 15. ISRO is seeking additional government funding to pay for those launches. [The New Indian Express]

Peter Jackson, the former CEO of AsiaSat, has resigned from his role as a non-executive director at the company. AsiaSat said Jackson’s departure is due to “other personal commitments” and that he had no disagreements with the board of directors. Jackson additionally left his roles as a member of AsiaSat’s remuneration and compliance committees. “The Board would like to express its gratitude to Mr. Jackson for his outstanding contributions to the Company during his tenure of service,” AsiaSat said. [AsiaSat]

British fleet operator Avanti demonstrated an 8.5 Mbps link with a moving vehicle using a terminal from Israeli antenna supplier GetSAT. The test showed the ability to stream live HD-quality video or other data traffic with the terminal over Avanti’s Hylas-2 Ka-band satellite. Avanti installed a GetSAT Microhub modem at the operator’s Cyprus gateway to support the demo. The companies said they will seek to further develop “satellite on the move” capabilities for military and government users. [Avanti]

Maxar Technologies is setting up a new smallsat division even as it downsizes satellite manufacturer Space Systems Loral. In an earnings call, Maxar CEO Howard Lance said the company had set up a new facility in San Jose, California, devoted to work on smallsats weighing between 100 and about 500 kilograms for both commercial and U.S. government customers. Maxar’s SSL division is consolidating its footprint in nearby Palo Alto, moving out of some leased buildings and laying off an unspecified number of people, citing a downturn in the GEO satellite market. Lance said he does not see “much in the way of a market recovery for GEO.” Maxar reported a net loss of $18.6 million in the second quarter, compared to a net profit of $19.3 million in the second quarter of 2017. [SpaceNews]

Satellite operator SES sees a shift in revenues from video to data services over the next few years. The company said that it anticipates that video services, which constitute 68 percent of the company’s current revenues, will drop to less than 60 percent by 2020, with data services rising from 32 to more than 40 percent. In a recent earnings call, SES CEO Steve Collar said development of its next-generation mPower satellite system was going well after a recently completed preliminary design review with manufacturer Boeing. [SpaceNews]

Satellite Internet-of-Things startup Fleet completed its mission control center in South Australia in preparation for the launch of its first two satellites. The control center and accompanying ground station will run 24 hours a day, enabling Fleet to receive data from Centauri 1 and 2 — the company’s first cubesats. The satellites are launching this year, one on a SpaceX Falcon 9 and another on an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. Fleet hopes to eventually have a constellation of 100 cubesats, providing connectivity in agriculture, mining, maritime and other industries. Italian startup Leaf Space built the ground station. [Business Insider Australia]

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FCC votes to open C-band for 5G

“We are going to need a bigger boat,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said July 12, quoting the 1975 movie Jaws as a metaphor for the challenge of handling 5G needs. “Or in our case, more spectrum.”

WASHINGTON — U.S. telecom regulators approved a plan announced last month to allow 5G signals in the same spectrum currently used for satellite television broadcasts.

The unanimous vote by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai and the agency’s three commissioners lays the groundwork for the transition of some, or possibly all of the 500 megahertz of spectrum commonly known as C-band.

Exactly how much spectrum will be determined through the processes outlined in the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), which detailed a four-step plan to make C-band accessible for 5G communications.

The order also requires users of C-band satellite dishes in the U.S. to license their dishes with the FCC (and update existing licenses), enforcing what was previously a voluntary process so that regulators can understand how heavily the band is used.

Intelsat and SES, the world’s two largest geostationary satellite operators, along with chip-maker Intel and, as of today Eutelsat, back a plan to free up 100 MHz of C-band as long as new users cover the cost of migrating customers and lost opportunities.

The NPRM gives multiple pathways for the expanded use of C-band, including market-based methods like the plan satellite operators put forward, spectrum auctions (favored by T-Mobile), and alternative methods. The FCC is seeking comment on the best way forward.

Like Jaws, but with less blood

The FCC kicked off discussions on how to make more spectrum available for 5G last year, fearing that the U.S. would fall behind other countries in preparing for the next generation of high-speed communications.

“If we make headway here, we can start to reclaim that lost leadership in spectrum that’s so critical for 5G networks,” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said at the ruling.

Mobile network operators have long had eyes on C-band, which in the U.S. ranges from 3.7 to 4.2 GHz, as a large swath of contiguous spectrum with favorable signal propagation characteristics.

Pai, speaking July 12 ahead of the vote, said the FCC wanted to “identify a mechanism that will unleash activity in this band like the $3,000 bounty placed on the shark in Jaws, but with … less bloodletting” referencing the popular 1975 film.

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said the satellite industry’s willingness to cooperate on ways to use C-band instead of resisting the change made for a rare opportunity to have a less painful transition.

“[It] just so happens that the current primary users, certain satellite providers, are receptive to reducing [their] footprint,” he said. “It’s rare you see the stars align to execute a large change in spectrum policy.”

O’Rielly said he was pleased to support the NPRM, but cautioned that the 100 MHz offered from satellite operators is unlikely to be sufficient.

“I’ve advocated for 200 to 300 Megahertz, with a serious review to release even more,” he said.

While ceding more spectrum would upset satellite operators, O’Rielly’s other remarks about the urgency of spectrum reallocations may give them relief.

The O’Rielly said the reallocation “needs to happen quickly,” not in five or 10 years. Intelsat, Intel and SES while championing their plan for the past several months have said a market-based approach could open up C-band in three years or less. Regulatory mandates would be more difficult and require considerably more time, they argued.

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said the satellite industry plan “could provide the quickest path to clearing spectrum, and do so without the issues that arise when the commission begins imposing mandates.”

Carr, citing financial analysts’ predictions that 2021 will be the year of peak investment in 5G infrastructure, encouraged taking a market-based approach, saying it “makes the most sense to move forward with options that have the best shot at bringing the spectrum online during the initial 5G rollout.”

Intelsat, in a statement provided to SpaceNews, said it is “pleased with the emphasis on the need for speed and the benefits of a market-based solution.”

“The satellite operators — Intelsat, SES and now joined by Eutelsat — will work to demonstrate our ability to efficiently implement our market-based proposal, protecting the C-band services environment from disruptive interference while clearing spectrum to accelerate the era of 5G in the U.S.,” Intelsat said.

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Why Intelsat’s going with life extension over refueling

Launched in June 2001, Intelsat-901 is healthy but running low on fuel. MEV 1 aims to fix that. Credit: Intelsat

This article originally appeared in the June 4, 2018 issue of SpaceNews magazine.

Intelsat-901, a 17-year-old communications satellite running low on propellant, is awaiting a first-of-its-kind service call from a robotic spacecraft carrying a fresh tank of fuel.

Orbital ATK’s first Mission Extension Vehicle, MEV-1, is slated to launch in early next year on a groundbreaking mission to dock with Intelsat-901 and take over orbital station-keeping duties, extending the satellite’s service life by several more years.

But first the two spacecraft will spend two or three months in a graveyard orbit 300 kilometers above Intelsat-901’s geostationary neighbors conducting tests and demonstrating the pair can fly as a connected unit before climbing back down under MEV-1’s control and return to commercial service sometime in 2019.

It’s been just over two years since Intelsat — one of the world’s largest satellite fleet operators — signed on as the first customer for the satellite-servicing venture Orbital ATK revived under its SpaceLogistics subsidiary after its ViviSat joint venture with U.S. Space ended in a lawsuit.

In December, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission gave SpaceLogistics approval to rendezvous and dock with Intelsat-901, a Space Systems Loral-built satellite that’s being replaced by the high-throughput Intelsat-37e satellite Intelsat launched in September to serve the Americas, Africa and Europe.

Earlier this year, Intelsat ordered a second Mission Extension Vehicle from Orbital ATK. Intelsat hasn’t said which one of its more than 50 geostationary satellites will be given an extended lease on life when MEV-2 enters service in mid-2020.

Ken Lee, Intelsat’s senior vice president of space systems. Credit: IntelsatKen Lee, Intelsat’s senior vice president of space systems. Credit: Intelsat

Intelsat is not a stranger to satellite servicing. In 1992, the crew of NASA’s Space Shuttle Endeavour grappled the Intelsat 603 satellite stranded in low Earth orbit and attached a new kick motor, saving the mission. In 2011, Intelsat signed a contract with MDA Corp., now part of Maxar Technologies, for a satellite servicing mission that never materialized.

Though Space Systems Loral and fellow Maxar acquisition MDA are offering a satellite-servicing spacecraft that can refuel and repair an ailing satellite, Intelsat is more comfortable with MEV’s simpler approach — at least for now.

“We are also looking at additional capabilities. It’s not just limited to MEV,” Ken Lee, Intelsat’s senior vice president of space systems, said during an interview from his Tysons Corner, Virginia, office late last month. “We might be looking at refueling and other concepts for life extension.”

Are you designing satellites today with satellite servicing in mind?

Good question. Satellite servicing could mean many things. The MEV approach that we have taken is the more conservative technology choice that allows us to extend the service of the spacecraft. But we can envision future services that would not just be life extension but replacement of failed components or even changing the mission. There are a lot of ideas on how we could design satellites to enable those services. Today we don’t have those concepts rolled into the satellite design. I think this requires an industry effort to standardize certain features so we are more easily able to expand the service scope in the future.

Can you give some specific examples?

Think about consumer products, where USB connections all have the same interfaces so you don’t have to buy a special type for every computer or cellphone. If we can have similar common interfaces for satellites, that makes the job a lot easier.

We can envision an interface that is able to provide power or data or a lot of different things. That could even allow us to change the type of mission of the spacecraft. The options are endless.

What is Intelsat doing to prepare for the MEV-1 mission?

Intelsat and Orbital ATK have been working together developing a concept of operations for operating these two spacecraft together as one. We also have done significant work on the whole design of MEV. We’ve been working pretty closely with Orbital ATK in developing their capabilities and how we are going to operate the spacecraft.

Orbital ATK recently finished compatibility assessments with Intelsat-901, the first spacecraft MEV-1 is going to be docking with. It was very successful. We have various key design reviews coming up and have been working really well as a team.

Have you decided on the use of MEV-2?

Yes, we have but I am not going to disclose what it is.

Do you have plans for more satellite-servicing missions beyond those two?

Yes, we are constantly looking at potential options. We are also looking at additional capabilities. It’s not just limited to MEV. We might be looking at refueling and other concepts for life extension.

Do you see advantages to MEV’s approach over what Maxar is doing with refueling and separating?

I think each vehicle has its own advantages and disadvantages. When we signed up for MDA’s satellite-servicing effort a few years ago, their concept was refueling instead of docking. The MEV approach is a more conservative technology choice. For us, because it is still relatively new, we want to be more conservative, but it does not preclude us from getting refueling with a Maxar-type of system.

Why do you consider the MEV approach to be more conservative?

To refuel a satellite on orbit, you have to get into the inside of the spacecraft, open up fill and drain valves, put in fuel — which is very volatile — and then seal up all the interfaces and separate from the spacecraft. There is significantly more operational complexity that’s involved in refueling whereas MEV’s approach is to go and attach to your client’s spacecraft and that’s it. Then MEV takes care of station keeping and attitude control. It’s a much simpler concept.

At Space Tech Expo in May, Intelsat’s vice president for satellite operations and engineering said he would like satellites to be able to function indefinitely. Do you agree?

We have some satellites that have been operating for 25 years and are still providing very valuable service to our clients. To the extent that the service is relevant, then it could stay there for a long time. There is a fine trade between having a spacecraft for a long time and not being able to provide the kind of services that are current in today’s market.

Last year, three satellites near or past their 15-year design lives malfunctioned in GEO and became space debris concerns. How do you decide how long a satellite’s life can be extended without putting its orbital neighbors at greater risk?

We have full telemetry so we know the health of the spacecraft. Our typical experience is that the spacecraft has to be limited due to fuel life. That’s the primary limitation. There are exceptions when you have anomalies and potentially could have catastrophic failures but those are few and far in between. We tend to have good assessments of which spacecraft are at risk and we make decisions accordingly.

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Asian satellite operators worried U.S. C-band debate will affect their markets

“This is a disaster for the whole industry.” — Huang Baozhong, executive vice president at APT Satellite, said at the CASBAA Satellite Industry Forum June 25. Photo shows Eutelsat Asia CEO Jean-François Fenech (left), APT’s Baozhong (center) and Mitsutoshi Akao, executive officer & group president of Sky Perfect JSAT’s Global Business Group Space and Satellite Business Unit. Credit: SpaceNews

SINGAPORE — Satellite operators in Asia say the debate over C-band in the United States is triggering similar discussions in their markets, causing concern that cellular operators could end up in control of the spectrum in other parts of the world.

While next-generation 5G networks are nearing deployment in the U.S., Europe and other technologically advanced areas like South Korea, several operators argued that most of Asia is still developing and has strong need for C-band satellite services.

“My personal belief is that Intelsat sold out the industry,” Roger Tong, AsiaSat’s recently appointed CEO, said at the CASBAA Satellite Industry Forum here June 25.

Intelsat and Intel have proposed letting 5G networks use some C-band spectrum in cases where it is strongly needed provided cellular operators compensate satellite operators for transition costs and lost business. SES backed Intelsat and Intel’s proposal when they agreed to clear only 100 MHz of the band instead of all 500 MHz allocated for satellite in the U.S.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission included some of Intelsat and Intel’s suggestions in a notice of proposed rulemaking it issued June 21 in preparation for a July 12 vote.

“Once they get [C-band], they won’t stop,” Tong said of cellular operators. “They will be more and more bandwidth hungry, they will claim to have more devices out there, they will claim that their market segment is expanding so they have to expand the spectrum.”

“This is a disaster for the whole industry,” said Huang Baozhong, executive vice president at APT Satellite. “I am 100 percent sure that most other countries will follow and then this will be spread all over the world.”

Baozhong said he fears the 100 MHz offered to mobile network operators is unlikely to be enough.

“They will take another 100 or 200, [until] finally all the C-band will be gone,” he said.

“What’s happening in the U.S. is having an impact in our region,” said Clare Bloomfield, director of policy and research at the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia (CASBAA).

CASBAA has consulted several governments including the Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong, India and Australia on C-band, she said.

Jim Simpson, CEO of ABS, said cellular companies are striving to convince telecom regulators across Asia that they need C-band more than satellite operators — a claim less easily defended in Asia because of the spectrum’s ability to get signals through rainstorms better than Ka- and Ku-band.

“I agree they will need more bandwidth, but they are not going to be needing as much as they get,” he said. “And frankly, satellite should be a very complementary activity for them in multiple different areas because we really are pretty beneficial from a 5G perspective.”

Jean-François Fenech, CEO of Eutelsat Asia, disagreed with other panelists, saying he doesn’t foresee a fight over C-band coming to Asia.

“The good thing I observe is many of the countries have national satellite systems which are operating in C-band, so I don’t see how they would shoot in their own foot if they believe satellite in C-band is good for them,” he said.

India’s GSAT-17, Laos’ LaoSat-1 and Bangladesh’s Bangabandhu-1 satellite — all launched within the past few years — carry C-band payloads for telecom services in Asia. Last year Eutelsat also launched a satellite — Eutelsat-172b — with C-band coverage of the Asia Pacific.

Sky Perfect JSAT’s Mitsutoshi Akao, executive officer and group president of the Japanese operator’s Global Business Group Space & Satellite Business Unit, said the Japanese government likes to follow U.S. decisions, and that his company is discussing with the Japanese government the importance of C-band.

Several Asian satellite operators argued that the situation in the U.S. differs strongly from the situation in Asia. However, both have one thing in common — insufficient data on how widely C-band is actually used.

“Worldwide we really don’t know how many C-band receive-only antennas there are,” Baozhong said.

A Chinese study from 2007 found more than 20 million C-band dishes in use, he said, but the current number is unknown.

Fenech estimated Indonesia has 10 to 13 million C-band dishes for television broadcast services.

JSAT’s Akao said the number of C-band dishes in Japan is “small,” but still important.

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FCC unveils proposal for C-band reallocation

Intelsat and SES both issued positive remarks about the FCC’s tentative plan. Credit: FCC

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Federal Communications Commission issued a draft proposal June 21 for giving the wireless industry access to C-band spectrum commercial satellite operators use to deliver cable and broadcast network programming.

The FCC is scheduled to vote July 12 on a four-step plan that would culminate in opening up at least some of the 500-megahertz swath of radio-frequency spectrum to next-generation 5G wireless networks hungry for bandwidth.

How much of the band, and consequently the magnitude of the impact on satellite operators and their C-band customers, is still to be determined.

The plan was outlined in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking the FCC released June 21.

Since October, more than 200 organizations filed comments to the FCC in anticipation of the rule-making.

The FCC proposal partially reflects a plan put forward by Intelsat, Intel and SES by calling for an industry-formed “Transition Facilitator” for the spectrum. That idea lines up with the satellite industry-supported plan for a consortium of satellite operators that negotiate terms for transferring spectrum to mobile operators.

The idea of a centralized facilitator garnered “record support,” according to the FCC, though Eutelsat and Telesat have expressed reservations about who would hold power in a satellite operator consortium. Telesat has said it will fight its competitors’ C-band plan if Intelsat and SES control the consortium.

Intelsat and SES, which together control more than 90 percent of U.S. C-band spectrum, support yielding 100 megahertz of C-band, plus a so-called guard band of 40 to 60 MHz of unoccupied spectrum, to mobile network operators and internet service providers. Eutelsat and Telesat each control a single-digit percentage. Wireless and internet providers would pay satellite operators for lost business opportunities and the cost of migrating customers to different frequencies.

The FCC is also considering auctioning the spectrum — a strategy favored by mobile network operator T-Mobile.

The proposed Transition Facilitator is the first step in the FCC’s plan; it would handle negotiations with new entrants wanting to claim C-band spectrum. The commission posed several questions for industry and interest groups to debate, such as whether the commission should have the right to approve or reject the formation of a Transition Facilitator.

The FCC asked for input on whether full coverage of the lower 48 states should be a requirement for consortium membership. The consortium would still incur costs re-configuring networks and relocating customers, for satellite operators with U.S. C-band coverage that don’t join its ranks, according to Intelsat and SES, though the FCC noted it is not clear how this process would work.

The FCC’s second step calls for a negotiation period between the Transition Facilitator and entities requesting access to C-band spectrum. In this stage the commission leaves open how much spectrum could transition from satellite operators to terrestrial telecom companies.

T-Mobile’s concern that the satellite industry’s C-band plan will “likely result in inefficient reallocation of spectrum,” led the FCC to ask whether the 100 megahertz Intelsat and SES agreed to offer up should be an “Initial Minimum Spectrum Benchmark.”

Intel, while allied with Intelsat and SES, said the market-based approach put forward “could clear additional spectrum beyond the 100 megahertz” without taking more time to complete. Intelsat, SES and Intel believe their market-based approach would facilitate new use of the band in 36 months or less and that a regulatory mandate would take many years longer to implement.

The negotiation stage includes consideration of various auction plans, including satellite operators relinquishing spectrum for auction in exchange for a portion of the proceeds.

Once the commission has a C-band transition plan, its third step is to begin accepting terrestrial license applications to use the spectrum. The FCC is requesting input on many details of this process such as timing, what criteria to require, and on how to best protect satellite services that remain in the band.

The fourth and final step consists of granting new terrestrial licenses in C-band and moving satellite customers out of the spectrum as needed. Similar to the other steps, the FCC asked for comments on “the best way to effectuate this process.”

The FCC is still seeking data on how heavily satellite customers use C-band since only 4,700 dishes are registered. On June 21, the FCC granted a 90-day extension for registering C-band dishes — at the behest of SES and Intelsat — and created options for registering multiple dishes simultaneously to lower the cost of the voluntary process. The FCC is implementing a temporary freeze on new registrations to get a snapshot of how the band is used.

As a motivation for unregistered C-band customers to step up, the FCC proposed that only dishes it knows about are ensured regulatory protection from signal interference.

The FCC also wants to collect additional data on registered dishes, such as which satellites they are pointed at and how often they are in use. If existing registrants don’t provide the updated information, the FCC proposes removing them from the database.

Intelsat offered praise for the draft C-band plan, thanking FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and commission staff in a June 21 tweet for “considering a different approach to this challenging issue.”

“The interest shown by the FCC encourages us to further our work to support stakeholders, including customers, in embracing our proposal as the most expedient solution,” Intelsat said.

SES issued a similar statement June 25. “We are pleased with the positioning of our proposal in the draft C-band NPRM released on June 21 by the FCC,” SES said.

In October, Intelsat and Intel began the satellite industry’s push to find a compromise on C-band, saying the regulatory pressure in the U.S. to repurpose the band for 5G was considerably stronger than in other parts of the world. SES joined in February on the grounds that satellite operators only cede 100 megahertz of C-band. 

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SES, Intelsat plead for an extension for C-band dish registration

The FCC plans to decide on future uses of C-band spectrum in July. Satellite operators are concerned it won’t have a full picture of the band’s current users. Credit: russellstreet /Flickr (Creative Commons)

WASHINGTON — Fleet operators SES and Intelsat asked the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to extend the deadline for their customers to register C-band dishes before the commission decides on the band’s future use.

The two companies said they are “gravely concerned” that the commission’s current rules for registration remain too cumbersome for most customers to complete, making the FCC’s database of C-band users smaller than the true number.

Writing to the FCC June 18, SES and Intelsat said the commission should allow U.S. C-band dish operators — the vast majority being broadcasters — to file one application per organization instead of one per dish. That application should have one fee, the companies argued, to drastically lower the cost.

The FCC on April 19 stopped accepting new C-band registrations in the 3.7 to 4.2 GHz range so that it can finalize its assessment of the C-band user base. The commission will decide next month how to repurpose the band so that it can support more functions than satellite communications, namely 5G cell networks.

Luxembourg-based SES and Intelsat of Luxembourg and Washington asked the commission to grant a 60-day extension.

“Given the time-sensitive nature of these matters, SES and Intelsat request expeditious Commission action,” the companies wrote.

Intelsat and SES together hold more than 90 percent of U.S. C-band spectrum rights. The operators, together with Intel, have proposed a plan to the FCC to cede one-fifth of the band to cellular operators on an as-needed basis in exchange for new users covering the cost of moving customers and lost business.

As the window closes for C-band registrants, the FCC agreed to waive frequency coordination documentation — a process that typically costs around $700, according to SES.

The commission does still charge a filing fee of $435 to register each dish. The cost of the voluntary process continues to discourage many registrants, satellite operators claim.

Intelsat said one known broadcast customer with 3,700 unlicensed dishes would have to complete individual paperwork for every single dish and pay more than $1.6 million in filing fees.

Intelsat and SES have both highlighted the importance of C-band for the satellite industry despite the dearth of hard data. In a presentation at the New America think tank here June 15, Intelsat’s Vice President for Spectrum Strategy Hazem Moakkit said more than 100 million U.S. homes rely indirectly on C-band for television programming.

Looming spectrum sacrifices

To prevent interference from new users, Moakkit and Michele Farquhar, counsel to SES and a partner at Hogan Lovells, cautioned that satellite signals will need to be distanced from other users.

Farquhar said a guard band that could be as much as 50 additional megahertz will likely be needed if the FCC accepts the satellite industry proposal.

That would leave 350 megahertz for satellite users. Moakkit said C-band users can’t afford to have noise from other sources even in adjacent bands.

“We can’t live with that. It’s pretty much like if you have a baby and are trying to put the baby to sleep and then a frat house moves next door,” he said.

Farquhar, echoing comments made in April by SES CEO Steve Collar, said all 500 megahertz of C-band band is already in use, and the loss of even the 100-plus megahertz as proposed will likely require new satellites, filtering technology and fiber installments for ground infrastructure.

“There is no spare anything,” she said of C-band. “That’s the problem.”

Terrestrial communications companies have their eyes on more spectrum than the satellite industry wants to give up.

Google’s Spectrum Engineering Lead Andrew Clegg said access to the full 500 megahertz would allow terrestrial internet companies to provide services that “could rival consumer fiber optic delivery.”

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said in a May 31 tweet that he was “leading [an] effort to reallocate good portion of 3.7-4.2 GHz” for 5G. How big that portion is remains to be determined.

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Arabsat Falcon Heavy mission slated for December-January timeframe

SpaceX’s inaugural Falcon Heavy lifts off Feb. 6. carrying a Tesla roadster. Credit: SpaceX

WASHINGTON — SpaceX’s first Falcon Heavy launch with a commercial satellite is scheduled to occur around the end of the year, according to customer Arabsat.

The Riyadh, Saudi Arabia-based satellite operator told SpaceNews by email that the launch window for Arabsat 6A is between December and January.

SpaceX has one Falcon Heavy launch scheduled ahead of Arabsat-6A — the U.S. Air Force’s STP-2 technology demonstration mission.

An Air Force Space Command spokesperson told SpaceNews the STP-2 mission is currently scheduled for October. STP-2 was previously up for launch this month, but slipped “due to ongoing SpaceX qualification testing and engineering review by both SpaceX and the Air Force,” the spokesperson said.

Following STP-2 and Arabsat-6A, it is unclear when the next Falcon Heavy mission will occur. SpaceX still counts fleet operators Intelsat, Viasat and Inmarsat as Falcon Heavy customers, but none have assigned spacecraft to the rocket.

Viasat’s ViaSat-2 and Inmarsat’s European Aviation Network satellite — both originally slated for 2016 Falcon Heavy launches — launched on Arianespace Ariane 5 rockets last June. The operators switched launch providers as Falcon Heavy delays mounted.

Inmarsat spokesperson Jonathan Sinnatt said the London-based satellite operator still has an option for a Falcon Heavy launch.

Intelsat, SpaceX’s earliest Falcon Heavy customer, also has a launch option dating back to 2012, but no concrete details such as payload or date.

“We still have the Falcon Heavy agreement but no satellite has been assigned to the vehicle,” Intelsat spokesperson Jason Bates said.

Carlsbad, California-based Viasat, in response to SpaceNews inquiries, gave no firm commitment of a Falcon Heavy launch, though the company is still listed on the SpaceX manifest.

“Viasat had a launch contract on the Falcon Heavy for the ViaSat-2 satellite launch,” Viasat said in a statement. “We continue to talk with SpaceX as well as other launch providers for our future launches. As deals are solidified with our launch providers – we’ll update the market.”

SpaceX launched its first Falcon Heavy in February on a demonstration mission carrying a red Tesla roadster.

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How long should a satellite last: five years, ten years, 15, 30?

Lisa Kuo, commercial programs and business development head for the Aerospace Corp., prompted an interesting discussion during the Space Tech Expo when she asked, “What is the optimal lifespan for a satellite?” Answering the question were (from left to right) Intelsat’s Jean-Luc Froeliger, Bryan Benedict of SES Government Solutions, SSL’s Michael Gabor, Philippe Galland of Airbus Defence & Space, and NASA’s Brian Roberts. Credit: SpaceNews/Debra Werner

PASADENA, California — Satellite manufacturers and operators attending the Space Tech Expo here offered contrasting views on how long satellites should continue to work in orbit.

For years, government and commercial operators sought to extend the life of satellites by sending them into orbit with plenty of fuel and components designed to withstand 15 years of harsh radiation. Now, the market is diversifying. Customers want everything from cubesats built for six-month missions to geostationary communications satellites designed to last decades.

If Jean-Luc Froeliger, Intelsat vice president for satellite operations and engineering, had his way, satellites would function indefinitely.

Intelsat has launch more than 150 satellites. In every case, Intelsat salespeople found new customers for satellites in orbit. An older satellite “may not bring in the same type of revenue it did at the beginning, but the satellite and launch are paid for and operation costs are minimum,” Froelinger said.

Bryan Benedict, SES Government Solutions senior director for innovation and satellite programs, said he would like to see satellite buses that could remain on orbit for decades although “forever might be a bridge too far.” A satellite built to last forever would require extensive radiation shielding, which would make it extremely heavy. Nevertheless, Benedict said he would like to see satellite buses capable of remaining in orbit “at least twice as long as they do currently” paired with payloads flexible enough to respond to changes in the market.

In contrast, government satellite operators envision satellites of the future being refreshed more frequently. The U.S. Air Force wants to update its technology in orbit more frequently by moving from satellites designed to last 10 to 15 years to satellites built to operate for three to five years, David Davis, chief systems engineer for the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, said during an earlier keynote address.

Along the same lines, Brian Roberts, robotic technologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, suggested ten years was the optimum lifespan for a satellite. “That is the cadence we are on,” Roberts said, noting that the Hubble Space Telescope has operated much longer but its technology was updated during servicing missions.

Satellite manufactures at the Space Tech Expo agreed that the ideal lifespan of a satellite varies based on its mission.

“Trying to look for a one-size-fits-all solution is probably the wrong thing to do,” said Michael Gabor, SSL advanced programs director. “There are different classes of satellites, which drive you to longer or shorter lifespans. There is no one right solution.

Philippe Galland, Airbus Defence and Space’s OneWeb return of experience manager, said the ideal lifespan for a satellite depends on its business model. “Sometimes it’s more effective to have a cheap satellite with a shorter lifetime,” Galland said.

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FCC tells Eutelsat that Intelsat already called dibs on U.S. orbital slot

The FCC said applications are considered on a first-come-first-serve basis. Credit: FCC

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Federal Communications Commission rejected a Eutelsat application for a satellite that would use the same spectrum as one planned by Intelsat.

Eutelsat and Intelsat both told the FCC they wanted to field a new telecom satellite near 133 degrees west longitude to serve the U.S. market. Intelsat filed its application last May, some eight months ahead of Eutelsat, however.

Jose Albuquerque, chief of the FCC’s Satellite Division, told Eutelsat in a May 22 letter that the commission considers such applications on a first-come-first-serve basis.

Intelsat submitted an application for Galaxy-15R, a proposed Ku- and Ka-band satellite to be located at 133 degrees west. Eutelsat’s application requested the same frequencies for a planned satellite called Eutelsat-133WB that it would operate at 132.85 degrees west.

Albuquerque said the 0.15-degree separation was too close to prevent interference between the two satellites.

“We therefore dismiss Eutelsat’s petition for U.S. market access for EUTELSAT 133WB,” he wrote.

Eutelsat, which says its filings at the United Nation’s International Telecommunication Union predate any filings supporting Intelsat’s Galaxy-15R, has not given up on securing the rights to the slot.

“We believe our company has the ITU priority to operate a potential satellite at this position, so we will continue to work to defend our interests and our rights at this position,” Eutelsat spokeswoman Marie-Sophie Ecuer told SpaceNews May 23.

Eceur said Eutelsat 133WB is “only a potential project among others” that Eutelsat is considering in the future. In its FCC filing, Eutelsat said it envisioned launching the satellite in 2021.

In a statement to SpaceNews, Intelsat said the FCC’s order “speaks for itself.”

“The Commission’s rules establish a first-come, first-served queue for licensing. Intelsat’s application was first in the queue, so once it was granted, Eutelsat’s could not be,” Intelsat said.

Intelsat is at the beginning of a replacement cycle for its Galaxy television broadcast satellites over North America. The Luxembourg- and Tysons Corner, Virginia-based operator purchased a satellite called Galaxy-30 from Orbital ATK in January. In its application, Intelsat said it plans to launch Intelsat-15R in 2022.

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Arianespace cancels Ariane 5 launch over ISRO satellite issue

ISRO’s GSAT-11 satellite shown arriving at French Guiana’s Félix Eboué Airport in March. Credit: Arianespace.

WASHINGTON — An Ariane 5 launch has been cancelled after an unexplained problem with an Indian space agency satellite that was supposed to ride on the mission.

Evry, France-based Arianespace, operator of the Ariane 5 rocket, said April 24 that the Indian Space Research Organisation recalled its GSAT-11 satellite back to an agency test facility in Bangalore, India for “additional technical checks.”

GSAT-11, a hefty 5,870-kilogram satellite designed to provide 12 Gbps of capacity, had arrived at the European spaceport in French Guiana on March 28 in anticipation of a May 25 launch with Azerspace-2/Intelsat-38, a so-called “condosat” shared by Azerbaijani satellite operator Azercosmos and global fleet operator Intelsat.

Arianespace said the SSL-built Azerspace-2/Intelsat-38 will launch sometime this summer with a new co-passenger.

ISRO has yet to state a reason for withdrawing GSAT-11. The move comes as ISRO tries to recover GSAT-6, an Indian telecom satellite that went silent after its March 29 launch.

As a result of the reshuffling at the spaceport, Arianespace said its next mission won’t be until July when another Ariane 5 is scheduled to launch four Galileo navigation satellites for the European Commission and the European Space Agency.

Arianespace said the remainder of its 2018 launch manifest “remains unchanged” and that a new date and co-passenger for Azerspace-2/Intelsat-38 “will be announced shortly.”

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Arianespace cancels Ariane 5 launch over ISRO satellite issue

ISRO’s GSAT-11 satellite shown arriving at French Guiana’s Félix Eboué Airport in March. Credit: Arianespace.

WASHINGTON — An Ariane 5 launch has been cancelled after an unexplained problem with an Indian space agency satellite that was supposed to ride on the mission.

Evry, France-based Arianespace, operator of the Ariane 5 rocket, said April 24 that the Indian Space Research Organisation recalled its GSAT-11 satellite back to an agency test facility in Bangalore, India for “additional technical checks.”

GSAT-11, a hefty 5,870-kilogram satellite designed to provide 12 Gbps of capacity, had arrived at the European spaceport in French Guiana on March 28 in anticipation of a May 25 launch with Azerspace-2/Intelsat-38, a so-called “condosat” shared by Azerbaijani satellite operator Azercosmos and global fleet operator Intelsat.

Arianespace said the SSL-built Azerspace-2/Intelsat-38 will launch sometime this summer with a new co-passenger.

ISRO has yet to state a reason for withdrawing GSAT-11. The move comes as ISRO tries to recover GSAT-6, an Indian telecom satellite that went silent after its March 29 launch.

As a result of the reshuffling at the spaceport, Arianespace said its next mission won’t be until July when another Ariane 5 is scheduled to launch four Galileo navigation satellites for the European Commission and the European Space Agency.

Arianespace said the remainder of its 2018 launch manifest “remains unchanged” and that a new date and co-passenger for Azerspace-2/Intelsat-38 “will be announced shortly.”

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Arianespace cancels Ariane 5 launch over ISRO satellite issue

ISRO’s GSAT-11 satellite shown arriving at French Guiana’s Félix Eboué Airport in March. Credit: Arianespace.

WASHINGTON — An Ariane 5 launch has been cancelled after an unexplained problem with an Indian space agency satellite that was supposed to ride on the mission.

Evry, France-based Arianespace, operator of the Ariane 5 rocket, said April 24 that the Indian Space Research Organisation recalled its GSAT-11 satellite back to an agency test facility in Bangalore, India for “additional technical checks.”

GSAT-11, a hefty 5,870-kilogram satellite designed to provide 12 Gbps of capacity, had arrived at the European spaceport in French Guiana on March 28 in anticipation of a May 25 launch with Azerspace-2/Intelsat-38, a so-called “condosat” shared by Azerbaijani satellite operator Azercosmos and global fleet operator Intelsat.

Arianespace said the SSL-built Azerspace-2/Intelsat-38 will launch sometime this summer with a new co-passenger.

ISRO has yet to state a reason for withdrawing GSAT-11. The move comes as ISRO tries to recover GSAT-6, an Indian telecom satellite that went silent after its March 29 launch.

As a result of the reshuffling at the spaceport, Arianespace said its next mission won’t be until July when another Ariane 5 is scheduled to launch four Galileo navigation satellites for the European Commission and the European Space Agency.

Arianespace said the remainder of its 2018 launch manifest “remains unchanged” and that a new date and co-passenger for Azerspace-2/Intelsat-38 “will be announced shortly.”

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Satellite communications firms remain vigilant as cyber threats evolve

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 12, 2018 issue of SpaceNews magazine.

In early January, computer security experts revealed new vulnerabilities in Intel microprocessors potentially affecting millions of mobile phones and laptop computers connected to cloud networks. The disclosure sent cyber sleuths around the world into overdrive to safeguard networks.

It’s no different in the world of military satellite communications when government or industry experts detect new vulnerabilities, except those discoveries are highly classified.

The commercial satellite networks the U.S. military relies on to carry the portion of its communications traffic that doesn’t flow through the Defense Department’s own satellites are designed, built and operated with an emphasis on information security. Fleet operators like Inmarsat, Intelsat, SES and Eutelsat say they meet or exceed extensive requirements included in government regulations and government contracts, ranging from encryption of spacecraft commands to protecting ground stations from cyber and physical intrusion.

In spite of all the safeguards, companies must continually monitor traffic on their global networks to detect attempted or successful penetration and take steps to mitigate the impact of security breaches.

“Threat actor are becoming more diverse and more capable. How they are able to attack systems continues to vary.” Rory Welch, Intelsat General Corp.“Threat actors are becoming more
diverse and more capable. How they are able to attack systems continues to vary.” Rory Welch, Intelsat General Corp.

“Cybersecurity is an active business,” said Rebecca Cowen-Hirsch, senior vice president for government strategy and policy at Inmarsat’s U.S. Government Business Unit in Reston, Virginia. “It’s not something you build and leave. It’s something you are constantly evolving.”

Rory Welch, vice president of engineering and service delivery for Intelsat General Corp. of McLean, Virginia, agrees. “We continuously evaluate the threat landscape,” Welch said. “That allows us to adjust and adapt our countermeasures to address those latest threat actors and attack methods.”

It’s challenging, however, to keep up with the constantly evolving threats, according to security experts.
“Threat actors are becoming more diverse and more capable,” Welch said. “How they are able to attack systems continues to vary.”

One way companies keep abreast of changing threats is by sharing information with one another and with government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and Defense Department.

Once they learn of new threats, they determine whether they need to update software, reroute traffic or take portions of a network offline when the threat is serious enough.

“Any system needs to have some degree of continuous review because as new vulnerabilities and new threats come to light, you may have to adjust,” said Patrick Rayermann, director for space and national intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance at Semper Fortis Solutions, a technology consulting company based in Leesburg, Virginia. “You may have to take a system offline until certain corrections can be applied.”

Satellite communications companies also are responding to growing cyber threats with a variety of actions to make their networks more resilient, including enhancing the security of new satellites.

Eutelsat is working on a new generation of software-defined satellites, called Quantum, which it plans to begin launching in 2019. Quantum’s “security design is particularly well-suited for governmental uses,” David Bair, chief executive of Washington-based Eutelsat America Corp., said by email.

Orbital ATK technicians put the finishing touches on GovSat-1. (Credit: Orbital ATK)Orbital ATK technicians
put the finishing touches
on GovSat-1. (Credit: Orbital ATK)

SES and the Luxembourg government launched GovSat-1, also known as SES-16, on Jan. 31, which is the first commercial satellite to meet a new requirement established by the U.S.-led intergovernmental Committee on National Security Systems to encrypt satellite telemetry downlinks as well as command uplinks, said Tim Deaver, corporate vice president for SES Government Solutions of Reston, Virginia. That level of encryption is a baseline requirement for O3b mPower, the constellation of high-throughput satellites in medium-Earth orbit SES plans to begin launching in 2021, Deaver said by email.

To bolster security throughout the company, SES recently hired its first chief information officer. “Part of his primary job is to ensure all of our information technology and networks meet the most stringent of requirements and to protect our assets,” Deaver said.

Inmarsat designed its Global Xpress fleet, which it began launching in 2013, with U.S. government customers in mind, Cowen-Hirsch said. Inmarsat encrypts Global Xpress satellite commands. It operates Global Xpress ground stations in NATO and Five Eyes nations. (Five Eyes is a multilateral intelligence alliance that includes the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.) Inmarsat’s network includes redundant fiber networks, which travel through U.S. allied nations. Within the Global Xpress network, Inmarsat can separate government traffic into its own “secure enclave,” she added.

Similarly, Intelsat’s Epic NG high-throughput satellite fleet and associated ground network are built for security and resiliency with “redundancy in its infrastructure and diversity in its operations,” Welch said.

Intelsat evaluates the information security recommendations of the Defense Department, National Institute of Standards and Technology and the International Organization for Standards. Intelsat’s information security team “takes the most stringent of all of those and applies them against our network design,” Welch said.

Independent third parties audit Intelsat’s space-based and terrestrial network annually to certify that it meets stringent international security standards known as Systems and Organization Controls 3, Welch said.

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SES allies with Intelsat, Intel on revised US C-band proposal

“Space and ground segment operators have invested billions of dollars in U.S. C-band networks and connectivity and generate important value out of it. It is therefore our duty and mission to protect the C-band in the U.S. from any form of disruption and preserve its use.” — Karim Michel Sabbagh, SES president and CEO. Credit: SES

WASHINGTON — Satellite fleet operator SES has agreed to join Intelsat on an amended proposal to let 5G networks use some of the satellite industry’s coveted C-band spectrum for next-generation cellular systems in the United States.

The modified proposal, building on a submission Intelsat and computer chip-maker Intel made to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission in October, would allow mobile networks to use one-fifth of satellite-designated C-band. SES had stipulated in November that, while considering Intelsat and Intel’s plan, the operator could not support opening the full 500-MHz of U.S. satellite C-band.

With SES on board, Intelsat now has the support of its most needed partner to advance the proposal. Intelsat and SES together control more than 90 percent of the C-band spectrum licensed in the U.S.

In a joint statement released Feb. 9, Intelsat and SES said they began discussions with the FCC on the proposal this week. The operators are including in the proposal the creation of a consortium for other satellite operators that beam down content or data over the lower 48 states to guide the proposal’s implementation, if accepted by the FCC.

Under pressure by mobile operators that have for years sought to wrest C-band spectrum away from satellite operators, Intelsat surprised its peer-competitors last fall when the company teamed with Intel on an idea that would enable both industries to use the same spectrum — just not simultaneously.

Intelsat said it was not betraying the heavily defended industry stance that mobile and satellite signals cannot use the same spectrum at the same time without generating intolerable interference levels, particularly for satellite users. Rather, the proposal calls for satellite operators to voluntarily migrate C-band customers to a different section of the band, or physically relocate their dishes in specific geographic areas where 5G networks have heightened spectrum needs.

“For the industry, we think this is great news,” Wells Fargo Senior Analyst Andrew Spinola wrote in a Feb. 9 research note. “Satellite is slowly being dragged into the 5G/Broadband world and there is a lot of change on the horizon. This news is a positive indication that the industry is becoming more comfortable with this transition, in our view, and willing to consider the greatest sources of value given the industry’s assets.”

Intelsat furthermore emphasized that the proposal was specific for the U.S. market, where regulators have taken an increased interest in freeing up more spectrum for 5G.

“The C-band is and remains a critical component of the U.S. network architecture,” SES, President and CEO Karim Michel Sabbagh said in a Feb. 9 statement. “Space and ground segment operators have invested billions of dollars in U.S. C-band networks and connectivity and generate important value out of it. It is therefore our duty and mission to protect the C-band in the U.S. from any form of disruption and preserve its use.”

Sabbagh added that the new consortium would enable that protection while forging a path for new 5G terrestrial services to form.

SES spokesperson Markus Payer told SpaceNews the consortium will arrange “secondary agreements” where mobile operators compensate satellite operators for the enormous costs of moving antennas, adding filtering technology, and possibly even launching new satellites in order to clear the needed spectrum.

“This whole thing can only happen if these costs are covered,” he said. “We think we found a mechanism and a system to get that done.”

Telecom network operator SpeedCast, a larger buyer of satellite capacity but not an operator of any spacecraft, wrote to the FCC in November saying service providers like itself needed to be included in the spectrum conversation. Intelsat vice president of investor relations Dianne VanBeber told SpaceNews that the consortium only has satellite operators as members because C-band end users don’t hold rights to the spectrum.

“Under the joint proposal, 100 percent of any network redesign costs will be compensated by those mobile operators using the spectrum. It is satellite operators who incur lost opportunity cost by virtue of limitation on services across the spectrum in which we have invested billions of dollars,” she said.  

VanBeber said Intelsat has 26 satellites with full or partial licensed C-band coverage of the United States, or roughly half the operator’s fleet.

In SES’s geostationary fleet of 43 satellites, 18 have C-band capacity over the United States, according to Payer.

Fleet operators Eutelsat of Paris and Telesat of Canada — both of whom chimed in on the FCC’s C-band spectrum discussion — have five and three satellites with C-band U.S. coverage, respectively.

Intelsat and SES said the consortium will ensure band reconfiguration and relocation costs are covered for all affected parties, including earth station and fixed microwave operators. The two companies say their market-based approach will make C-band spectrum available in one to three years versus any government-led spectrum allocation that could, based on historical precedent, take well over a decade. VanBeber said Intelsat does not yet have an expectation of when it will hear from the FCC regarding the agency’s spectrum inquiry, but notes that “creating a path to 5G deployment is a national priority.”

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Intelsat begins Galaxy fleet refresh with Orbital ATK satellite order

Artist’s rendition of an Orbital ATK GEOStar-2 satellite. Credit: Orbital ATK

WASHINGTON — Satellite fleet operator Intelsat kicked off the beginning of a partial constellation replenishment focused on replacing the company’s Galaxy line of satellites with a Jan. 8 order to Orbital ATK for the Galaxy-30 satellite.

Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital ATK will build Galaxy-30 in anticipation of an early 2020 launch with a yet-to-be-named launch provider.

In a prepared statement, Intelsat’s senior vice president of space systems Ken Lee said the Galaxy-30 satellite “will be the 11th satellite Orbital ATK has built for Intelsat, and represents the first satellite in the Galaxy fleet replacement program.”

“Galaxy 30 demonstrates our commitment to our Galaxy cable distribution neighborhood, which has an unmatched penetration of headends in the U.S.” he said. “Our next-generation video distribution fleet will excel at traditional broadcast applications, such as ultra-high definition distribution while at the same time will be capable of supporting new network solutions for applications such as over-the- top video and other distribution requirements.”

Intelsat’s North America-focused satellites are all branded “Galaxy.” Most came from acquiring Loral Space and Communications’ North America fleet 2004 and PanAmSat and its fleet in 2006.

Galaxy-30 will carry a C-band payload for television broadcasts, along with Ku- and Ka-band capacity for broadband connectivity. It is the first new Galaxy satellite since 2005. Intelsat’s Galaxy fleet consists of 13 satellites, comprising roughly a quarter of the operator’s total constellation.

Intelsat in October mentioned that its next replacement cycle would be less costly than the EpicNG high-throughput satellite (HTS) constellation the company has been investing in since 2012.

“Our heavy investment phase related to our high-throughput satellites is now nearing completion,” Intelsat told investors Oct. 26. “The lower capital expenditures associated with our next replacement cycle are expected to support an improved cash flow profile and financial flexibility over the next several years.”

Intelsat CEO Stephen Spengler said in July that the company was in the early stages of planning three new satellites, which would include the start of a refresh for the operator’s North American fleet.

One factor playing into the payloads carried on those satellites will be the U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s decision on C-band spectrum rights in the United States.

The FCC is reevaluating mid-band spectrum, which includes 500MHz of C-band spectrum predominantly used by Intelsat and competitor SES in the United States for television broadcasts. Intelsat, with Intel as a partner, proposed to the FCC what they called a market-based approach to the spectrum, whereby satellite operators would voluntarily clear out of some C-band frequencies so that fifth-generation mobile networks, or 5G, can use the spectrum without causing interference. Mobile networks desiring to use C-band spectrum for 5G would compensate satellite operators for the cost of relocating customers and lost business opportunities.

Fleet operator SES, who with Intelsat controls more than 90 percent of C-band in the U.S., told the FCC in November that Intelsat and Intel’s plan would require SES to buy and launch new C-band satellites at a cost of $150 million to $250 million each. SES estimated it has spent $2.8 billion already on C-band satellite capacity authorized for the U.S. market.

SES said it would only consider backing Intelsat and Intel’s plan if it does not open up the entire 500 MHz from 3.7 to 4.2 GHz. Without SES, Intelsat and Intel may face an uphill battle in seeking to realize their plan.

What the FCC decides on C-band usage will have a direct impact on telecommunications satellites designed to cover the U.S. and North America. FCC spokesperson Neil Grace told SpaceNews Jan. 8 that the agency is still reviewing comments and does not yet have an update on the timeline for a decision.

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Former Thuraya CEO leaves OneWeb for Intelsat

Samer Halawi. Credit: Intelsat

WASHINGTON — Samer Halawi is leaving satellite internet startup OneWeb after less than a year to join Intelsat in a newly created executive position.

Halawi stepped down as CEO of Dubai-based satellite operator Thuraya in March to become chief commercial officer at OneWeb, which at the time was still pursuing a merger with Intelsat. The merger collapsed in June after Intelsat was unable to convince creditors to go along with a debt swap that was a precondition for the deal.  

Six months later, Halawi is set to join Intelsat as the satellite fleet operator’s chief commercial officer. He starts Jan. 9, according to a Dec. 20 press release.

“Samer’s extensive background and expertise in mobility services and in bringing new products and services to market will be instrumental in guiding our commercial operations to capitalize on new, fast growing applications,” Intelsat CEO Stephen Spengler said in a prepared statement.

Halawi’s responsibilities will include commercializing Intelsat’s EpicNG high-throughput fleet, strengthening the rollout of new managed services, and finding new applications for satellite communications. Halawi will also lead engagements with Intelsat business partners including antenna maker Kymeta and OneWeb, both of whom Intelsat has invested in and has several partnership agreements.

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FCC begins approval of Orbital ATK satellite-servicing mission for Intelsat-901

Artist’s rendition of an MEV satellite servicer with a customer satellite. Credit: Orbital ATK

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Federal Communications Commission on Dec. 5 okayed the first part of a satellite-servicing mission Orbital ATK’s Space Logistic subsidiary has with Intelsat, saying the servicing vehicle can execute “rendezvous, proximity operations, and docking with the Intelsat-901” satellite while in a graveyard orbit.

Regulatory approvals for the first Mission Extension Vehicle-1 (MEV-1) are proceeding as planned, Joe Anderson, vice president of business development and operations for Space Logistics, told SpaceNews Dec. 12, though the FCC deferred on some of the company’s requests.

The commission has, for now, withheld permission on a request from Space Logistics LLC, the subsidiary handling Orbital ATK’s satellite-servicing business, for relocating Intelsat-901 alongside another Intelsat satellite. The agency also deferred on a request to undock MEV-1 from Intelsat-901 at the end of that mission and to return MEV-1 to a graveyard orbit to await its next assignment.

Anderson said Space Logistics wasn’t surprised the FCC withheld some permissions because Intelsat hasn’t said where exactly it intends to place Intelsat-901.

“The FCC license is exactly what we had requested and exactly how we had planned it,” Anderson said. “These future actions would just require a further routine administrative process with the FCC. Just like with any comsat, if they are going to drift from one location to another location, they need to notify the FCC at that time … it’s the same model here for us.”

Space Logistics has a contract with fleet operator Intelsat of Washington and Luxembourg to provide in-orbit servicing with MEV-1 — the first in a proposed fleet of satellite servicers Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital ATK intends to build — with service beginning in early 2019.

In a public notice issued Dec. 8, the FCC authorized Space Logistics to use four different frequency bands for telemetry, tracking, and command (TT&C) of MEV-1 as the servicer completes post-launch maneuvers, reaches the graveyard orbit for decommissioned geostationary satellites some 300 kilometers above the geosynchronous arc, and attaches to Intelsat-901.

Space Logistics’ MEVs works by connecting to a satellite and taking over station-keeping, using fuel onboard the servicer to propel the satellite and extend its life. Most geostationary satellites are forced into retirement after 15 years or more due to a shortage of fuel.

“It is in our plan for Intelsat-901 that at the end of the five-year life extension mission that we would return the IS-901 to the graveyard orbit and release them there. After that release the MEV would then proceed onto our next client,” Anderson said, adding that the next client has not yet been identified.

Satellite servicing is a relatively new area for regulators, consequently requiring a lot of trailblazing by Orbital ATK. Anderson said the company has been in a dialogue with the FCC, the U.S. State Department and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for several years, and those discussions concluded that the FCC would be the licensing body for launch, deployment, docking and TT&C.

Space Logistics needs two licenses, Anderson said — one from the FCC, and another from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an agency Orbital ATK has also been discussing satellite servicing with for several years. The NOAA license is required because the MEV has cameras for docking that could also image the Earth, thus necessitating a remote-sensing license. Anderson said the NOAA license is also proceeding well, and should be complete in the first half of 2018, barring unexpected questions.

International Launch Services is under contract to launch MEV-1 in late 2018 on a Russian Proton rocket as part of a dual launch with the telecom satellite Eutelsat 5 West B. Orbital ATK is building both MEV-1 and the Eutelsat satellite. In September, Orbital ATK said MEV-1, having completed a critical design review earlier in the year, was in production with roughly 75 percent of the platform and payload components already at the company’s Virginia factory.

Once launched, MEV-1 will rely mainly on electric propulsion for two to three months of orbit raising, during which the vehicle will undergo in-orbit testing, Anderson said. After testing the MEV, he said Space Logistics will conduct two to four weeks of testing with Intelsat-901 and MEV-1 in the graveyard orbit before beginning life extension services. MEV-1 uses electric propulsion for station keeping and relocations, and a chemical propulsion system for rendezvous and docking, he said. 

Intelsat-901 launched in June 2001 on an Ariane 4 rocket, carrying C-band capacity over the Americas, Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and additional Ku-band over the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. The satellite is now more than 16 years old. In September, Intelsat launched a replacement satellite, the more powerful high-throughput Intelsat-37e Epic satellite, and said Intelsat-901 would be repositioned.

Intelsat, in a quarterly commentary document released in July, said it plans to use MEVs “to extend the operational life of two of our wide-beam satellites.” The satellite operator now factors MEV use into long-term fleet planning. CEO Stephen Spengler told SpaceNews in September that satellite life extension gives the company greater flexibility in planning future spacecraft.

“If we can continue to serve customers with the current-generation technology very well, extending those services for a couple of years, this gives us the ability to delay those capex investments for a replacement. Most importantly, it also allows us more time for technology to develop,” he said. “There’s an awful lot of enhancements and developments going on in satellite and space technology, and having the ability to extend for a few years gives us the opportunity to get the latest capability when we do replace a particular satellite of that type.”

Intelsat spokesperson Dianne Vanbeber on Dec. 12 acknowledged plans for a second MEV mission, but declined to give specifics, such as whether that involves splitting up the five-year Intelsat-901 mission, employing MEV-1 on a consecutive mission, or using a new MEV.

Space Logistics’ first MEV has a design life of 15 years, enabling multiple missions before its own end of life. Orbital ATK plans to upgrade MEVs over time to include greater robotic servicing capabilities.  

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Registering C-band dishes a costly, cumbersome task for customers, SES says

C-band dishes can cost over $1,000 for a voluntary registration process. Credit: russellstreet /Flickr (Creative Commons)

WASHINGTON — If the U.S. Federal Communications Commission wants a more accurate database of C-band satellite dishes, it should make the process of registering those dishes less expensive and time-consuming, fleet operator SES said Dec. 6.

In a letter recounting a Dec. 4, meeting between Luxembourg-based SES and representatives of the FCC, SES argued that its C-band customers have little incentive to register their dishes, since registration is a voluntary process that can cost over $1,000 per site.

The FCC is pushing for an updated registry of C-band users to better understand how the spectrum is used. That information would feed into an assessment of a large swath of “mid-band spectrum” that includes 3.7 to 4.2 GHz — the chunk of C-band available for satellite operators in the United States.

SES and competitor Intelsat account for more than 90 percent of the C-band spectrum rights over the United States, but lack accurate information on how many dishes their customers have deployed. Both companies say the FCC database’s 4,700 registered dishes vastly under-represents the true number of dishes in use.

Intelsat said Oct. 13 that one of its smaller customers has around 3,000 unlicensed dishes, meaning others have even more outside the FCC’s books. SES, in its letter, said “the American Cable Association has estimated that 90% of its members’ receive earth stations are unregistered, and if this rate is typical of C-band users, there could be more than 30,000 receive-only earth stations in total.”

Along with cost, SES said the only benefit C-band customers — who are typically television broadcasters — gain from registration is protection from subsequent C-band microwave links — a terrestrial telecommunications infrastructure with “extremely limited” use of C-band.  

SES said it is trying both to ease the FCC process and encourage its customers to register their dishes.

“For example, SES has suggested that the Commission could undertake a two-step procedure, collecting basic location information first through a simplified online data entry process with no fee and subsequently conducting a more complete antenna registration, but with significant modifications to encourage participation,” SES wrote. “Specifically, SES has argued that the Commission should waive or significantly reduce the registration filing fee and eliminate the coordination requirement for receive-only earth stations.”

C-band customers have a greater motivation to register their dishes now that the FCC is actively considering using the band for fifth-generation (5G) cell phone networks. Mobile network operators have long sought after C-band spectrum to expand their networks, having already gained the lower portion of C-band from 3.4 to 3.6 GHz across most of the world. In the U.S., 3.4 to 3.7 GHz is prioritized for other users, giving domestic mobile operators reason to eye the remaining 500 MHz, and satellite operators a more vehement reason to defend a more limited resource.

SES and other satellite operators say C-band is relied upon heavily for its robustness — something Ku and Ka-band satellites cannot match. Emergency services also often use C-band thanks to the frequency’s ability to penetrate through rain storms.

Satellite operators say they cannot use the same C-band spectrum concurrently with mobile users because the cellular signals are stronger than satellite, drowning out satellite links with insurmountable interference. Intelsat and Intel, in response to the FCC’s mid-band notice of inquiry, submitted a proposal whereby satellite operators would voluntarily clear out portions of C-band in limited geographic areas for mobile 5G networks. Mobile network operators would have to financially compensate satellite operators for relocating customers who were using the needed C-band spectrum, along with other satellite operator expenses.

SES, the ally Intelsat needs most for the proposal, said it is “examining proposals in the record, including the framework suggested by Intelsat and Intel for a market-based solution, as well as brainstorming about other ideas that could preserve satellite access to C-band spectrum for highly reliable programming distribution services while accommodating expanded terrestrial use.”

On Nov. 15, SES said it was open to exploring Intelsat’s plan, but not opening the entire 500 MHz of C-band to mobile users.

“Due to its network design and planning, SES’s center-of-the arc cable neighborhood spacecraft are fully loaded, and SES does not have sufficient alternative C-band capacity elsewhere in its fleet with the 50-state coverage necessary for video distribution customers,” SES said in its Dec. 6 letter.

Fleet operators Eutelsat and Telesat, both of whom have C-band customers in the U.S., are still evaluating the Intelsat-Intel proposal.

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5 Markets | KVH turns to Intelsat EpicNG to speed up maritime broadband service

KVH Industries, a mobile satellite communications equipment and service provider, is preparing to offer broadband in early 2018 to commercial and private maritime customers through satellite fleet operator Intelsat’s EpicNG constellation.

With its new TracPhone V7-HTS terminals, KVH is promising customers peak speeds of 10 megabits per second for downloads and three megabits per second for uploads. KVH’s previous generation, TracPhone V7-IP, advertises peak speeds of three megabits per second for downloads and 512 kilobits per second for uploads.

The KVH-Intelsat partnership is the latest example of growing demand for satellite communications in the maritime market. Mariners rely on satellite links to share information on their vessel’s performance, communicate with family and friends, use the internet and access entertainment.

“All those things drive the demand for higher throughput,” said Randy Anders, Intelsat managing director of North American sales. “Customers request higher throughput and the minute they obtain it, they fill it up with traffic and look to do other things.”

KVH, for example, created IP-MobileCast, a service that enables customers to watch television shows, sporting events, news programs, movies, weather reports and other programming while at sea. Mariners need high-throughput connections in order to make phone calls and use the internet while downloading this type of multimedia content, Anders said.

Northern Sky Research, a market research and consulting firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, expects companies to earn more than $1 billion a year by 2026 leasing satellite capacity to maritime VSAT customers. In 2016, that market was worth $400 million, according to Northern Sky Research’s report Maritime Satcom Markets, 5th Edition published in July.

Before Intelsat launched its first EpicNG satellite in January 2016, company executives were showing KVH how the satellite’s spot beams would provide higher throughput service along major sea routes, including the Caribbean, Mediterranean and North Seas.

“We have a strong partnership with KVH,” Anders said. “They had the vision of what they wanted to provide customers. This partnership confirms the expectation we had for the EpicNG platform when we designed it and built it.”

Intelsat has five EpicNG satellites in orbit. The sixth EpicNG satellite, Horizons-3e, a joint venture with Asian satellite fleet operator Sky Perfect JSAT, is scheduled to launch in late 2018 and fill out the constellation’s global coverage, said Intelsat spokesman Jason Bates.

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SES willing to partially explore Intelsat and Intel’s C-band plan

An SES ground station. Credit: SES

WASHINGTON — Satellite fleet operator SES, the industry partner whose support Intelsat and Intel need the most for their proposal to open C-band the U.S. has designated for satellites to 5G wireless networks hungry for more spectrum, is willing to go along with the plan, but with one major caveat: not the whole band.

In a statement provided to SpaceNews, SES spokesperson Markus Payer said SES is “open to exploring any approach to a joint use of C-band only if it meets two essential criteria: it must create appropriate financial incentives to justify the extremely high cost of such an approach, and it must ensure that we can continue to deliver services to our customers without any disruption.”

SES believes that “we cannot achieve this unless we open only a limited portion of the respective band,” he said.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission allots 500 MHz of C-band spectrum to satellite operators, who use it primarily for satellite television broadcasts. Such broadcasts constitute the largest chunk of revenue for most fixed satellite services providers. Those 500 MHz in the U.S. are the focus of Intelsat and Intel’s proposal.

In the U.S., satellite operators have access to the 3.7 to 4.2 GHz range of C-band. The total block of spectrum designated as C-band stretches from 3.4 to 4.2 GHz, but the FCC has already divvied up the first 300 MHz between federal users and the Citizens Broadband Radio Service, or CBRS. Internationally, most of the world already allocated 3.4 to 3.6 GHz for mobile users two years ago at the 2015 World Radiocommunication Conference.

SES, writing to the FCC Nov. 15 just before the comment window closed on the commission’s mid-band spectrum notice of inquiry, said the company is evaluating Intelsat and Intel’s plan, but “does not agree that any such approach could apply to the entire 500 MHz C-band downlink allocation.” Payer declined to say how much of the band SES is willing to open.

SES satellites reach more than 100 million U.S. households using C-band, a feat the company argues won’t be possible if the full 500 MHz could was potentially subject to 5G mobile users even in limited parts of the U.S.

“[I]n order to maintain service to customers in such a scenario, SES would need to deploy more satellites with C-band capacity, at a cost ranging from $150 million to $250 million in capital expenditure per satellite,” SES wrote. “Addition of those satellites will be paired with a necessary reconfiguration of the associated ground network that will require further significant investments.”

Intelsat and Intel’s plan involves 5G operators paying satellite operators for the cost of migrating customers to different swaths of the C-band on a case-by-case basis. This “extremely complicated task,” as SES puts it, would run up expenses “in billions of dollars.”

SES and Intelsat together control more than 90 percent of the C-band spectrum in the U.S.

Eutelsat, Telesat still undecided.

Two other global fleet operators with C-band capacity over the U.S. continue to evaluate Intelsat and Intel’s plan.

Paris-based Eutelsat chief executive Roldolphe Belmer told SpaceNews by email Nov. 15 that “Eutelsat is still assessing all the possible consequences of a market-based approach to release [a] portion of satellite C-band for terrestrial use.”

Five Eutelsat satellites — Eutelsat 113 West A, Eutelsat 115 West B, Eutelsat 117 West A, Eutelsat 117 West B and Eutelsat 172A — have C-band capacity with total or partial coverage of the U.S. In the operator’s Nov. 15 FCC filing, Eutelsat said it has “significant questions and in some cases concerns” about Intelsat and Intel’s proposal. Eutelsat used the filing in part to highlight several non-broadcast uses of C-band, including connecting U.S. oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, enabling voice and broadband in Alaska, and U.S. government customers in Hawaii using C-band to stay in contact with Asia.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s WAAS, or Wide Area Augmentation System, hosted payload on Eutelsat 117 West B, used to hone the accuracy of GPS signals for aircraft navigation and landing, also uses the upper portion of the 3.7 to 4.2 GHz band, Eutelsat said.

Canadian satellite operator Telesat, which has three satellites covering the full continental U.S. in C-band, told the FCC yesterday that “The Intelsat-Intel proposal raises a number of complex technical and business issues that need to be assessed, which Telesat is now doing.”

Telesat said it might provide further comments on Intelsat and Intel’s plan after completing that assessment.

Neither the Satellite Industry Association nor the Global VSAT Forum — both prominent industry trade groups — made mention of the Intelsat-Intel proposal in Nov. 15 letters to the FCC. The Global VSAT Forum said roughly 180 C-band satellites are in orbit today, constituting $50 billion of in-orbit investments. The Satellite Industry Association rebuffed terrestrial telecom companies claiming C-band use is in decline as in “conflict with the incontrovertible facts.”

Speedcast opposition

Satellite network operator Speedcast of Hong Kong, one of the largest buyers of satellite capacity, critiqued Intelsat and Intel’s proposal as neglecting the views of earth station operators, essentially biasing the proposal.

“Spectrum sharing with terrestrial services does not happen at the geostationary arc; it happens on the ground where earth station operators and service providers deliver gateway and end-user services,” Speedcast wrote to the FCC. “All C-band earth station operators and service providers must have a seat at any table where spectrum access issues that are fundamental to their business are considered.”

Speedcast said Intelsat and Intel’s proposal misses that even with satellite operators voluntarily clearing portions of C-band, in some cases that will be “infeasible due to customer obligations or operational necessity.”

“Speedcast cannot accept any process whereby one or more self-appointed C-band satellite operators negotiates spectrum access arrangements on behalf of earth station operators and service providers without their input or consent,” the company wrote.

Intelsat, Intel undeterred

Intelsat and Intel restated to the FCC in a joint filing Nov. 15 that their plan will make mid-band spectrum available for 5G much faster (one to three years) than a government-led reallocation effort (six to 18 years). The companies also note that their plan avoids the challenges associated with sharing the same spectrum simultaneously between satellite and mobile users — an idea the satellite industry says causes severe interference to satellite communications and is therefore not a feasible solution.

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Intelsat makes case for C-band plan as FCC deadline looms

Hazem Moakkit, Intelsat’s vice president of spectrum strategy (left) and Michelle Bryan, Intelsat’s executive vice president, general counsel and chief administrative officer (right). Credit: Intelsat

WASHINGTON — As the U.S. Federal Communications Commission closes its window Nov. 15 for comments on how to better allocate mid-band spectrum, Intelsat says its proposal to clear customers from portions of the satellite industry’s prized C-band in certain parts of the United States has been misconstrued by its detractors.

The response from operators of other satellite and cellular networks ranges from wait-and-see to outright hostility — a challenge Intelsat says is at least partly to blame on misunderstandings of the spectrum proposal.

The FCC’s comment window closes at 12:00 a.m. EST, having been extended two weeks at the behest of spectrum and telecom organizations. The original Aug. 3 notice of inquiry covers mid-band spectrum from 3.7 to 24 GHz, of which 3.7 to 4.2 GHz of C-band is currently allocated for satellite communications in the United States.

Intelsat and semiconductor giant Intel’s plan, submitted to the FCC Oct. 2, would have satellite operators voluntarily clear out of some C-band frequencies so that fifth-generation mobile networks, or 5G, can use the spectrum without causing interference. Those 5G networks would compensate satellite operators for the cost of relocating customers as well as for lost business opportunities.

Intelsat and Intel brand their plan as a market-based approach that would be faster than the FCC implementing sweeping, top-down decisions.

“We have had a lot of conversations with our customers along the way,” Michelle Bryan, Intelsat’s executive vice president, general counsel and chief administrative officer, told SpaceNews Nov. 10. “I would say so far there haven’t been many questions. What [customers] have indicated is that they appreciate that we are trying to get to certainty. It’s clear that that is important to them.”

Intelsat’s U.S.-based C-band customers, the overwhelming majority of which are television broadcasters, were generally not surprised by the proposal, she said, because they were already aware of the ever-increasing desire to make spectrum available for new services. FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly last month described the U.S. as being disadvantaged on the international stage regarding licensed spectrum for 5G. He also praised the Intelsat-Intel idea as one worth considering.

On the contrary, mobile network operator T-Mobile, which in May detailed plans to roll out 5G in the U.S., told the FCC Oct. 13 that it “should specifically reject any proposals to use experimental market-based mechanisms, such as those suggested by Intel and Intelsat,” arguing the proposal disproportionately benefits Intelsat, “will not produce an efficient means of promoting terrestrial use,” and that the spectrum should be auctioned off instead.

Bryan said that not all mobile carriers share T-Mobile’s opinion.

Gaining a teammate?

Intelsat and SES together control more than 90 percent of C-band in the U.S., making SES the most important partner Intelsat needs for its plan to succeed. Bryan said that while SES’s support is not a requirement to keep pushing the proposal, “in the end, it’s difficult to see how this will work if we don’t have SES in the consortium.”

In the time since Intelsat and Intel submitted their proposal, SES met with the FCC three times to discuss the commission’s notice of intent, according to FCC documents. Those meetings centered primarily on the importance of C-band for nationwide delivery of television content, not the Intelsat-Intel proposal. SES has yet to provide an update on its stance regarding the proposal since Oct. 3 when the operator told SpaceNews that, among other things, it was “open to ideas to use parts of the spectrum differently as long as this does not undermine our ability to use our substantial investments in C-band for the benefit of our customers and their millions of end users.”

Intelsat sought to assuage concerns that its proposal would negatively influence spectrum decisions around the world, arguing that the uniqueness of the U.S. spectrum situation makes the proposal country-specific. C-band encompasses 800 MHz from 3.4 to 4.2 GHz, but in the U.S. the FCC has already allocated frequencies from 3.4 to 3.7 GHz to non-satellite or mobile purposes. The vast majority of other countries already allocated 3.4 to 3.6 GHz for mobile users during the 2015 World Radiocommunication Conference, Hazem Moakkit, Intelsat’s vice president of spectrum strategy, said.

Bryan described concerns raised by Tom Choi of Bermuda-based satellite operator ABS that the proposal violates Intelsat’s responsibilities to the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization, ITSO, as a “red herring.”

ITSO obligates Intelsat to provide global connectivity on a nondiscriminatory basis — a holdover from Intelsat’s origin as an intergovernmental organization — and affirms that legacy orbital slots are for Intelsat, Bryan said. None of the orbital slots where Intelsat offers C-band services to the U.S. market are through ITSO, she said. Furthermore, Brian said most of the orbital slots involved come from Intelsat’s acquisition of Loral Space and Communications’ North America fleet in 2004 and from merging with PanAmSat in 2005.

“We are not saying we are walking away from the spectrum,” Moakkit said. “We are retaining the [fixed satellite services] primary allocation in the 500 MHz. What we are trying to do is find a way to accommodate the need for 5G deployment in mid-band spectrum.”

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Spengler defends Intelsat-Intel C-band proposal as a U.S.-only solution

Intelsat CEO Stephen Spengler at the Satellite 2017 conference. Credit: SpaceNews

WASHINGTON — Intelsat CEO Stephen Spengler defended Intelsat’s joint proposal with Intel for ceeding certain satellite spectrum to the wireless industry for 5G services, telling investors Oct. 26 that the controversial C-band proposition is not intended as a solution for clearing congested airwaves outside the U.S.

In a quarterly earnings call with investors, Spengler said the proposal — one of around 80 now under review at the U.S. Federal Communications Commission — was forged with Intel out of recognition that the U.S. is moving with considerable momentum to repurpose the prized satellite spectrum and shows no sign of changing course.

Consequently, Intelsat sees its compromise as the best way for satellite interests to avoid getting “run over by the 5G train,” as then-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler put it bluntly last year.

“We view this as a U.S.-specific situation, and a U.S. specific issue to be addressed, and that is how we are pursuing it,” Spengler explained. “We do not believe this is necessarily applicable globally.”

Intelsat’s proposal has so far received mixed responses, with the FCC saying it is of interest, and satellite operators either deferring opinions or expressing concern about the overarching ramifications. That other governments around the world will model their own individual solutions to the C-band conundrum on what the U.S. does is among operator concerns.

Spengler said other countries have more room to expand 4G and 5G networks without taking C-band away from satellite operators. Additionally, C-band plays a larger role in extending telecom networks internationally, compared to in the U.S. where it is primarily used for television content distribution, he said.  

Spengler said Intelsat still views itself as a “vigorous defender of C-band globally,” and hasn’t broken ranks with the rest of the satellite industry on opposing simultaneous use of C-band by satellite and terrestrial operators. Such dual use would cause intolerable levels of interference, the satellite industry believes.

“That is the motivation for what we are doing. We think that as this is better understood, it will be appreciated that this is a proactive approach to avoid what could be a very unnattractive situation creating risk and interference into our media customer’s businesses and transmissions,” he said.

Epic revenues top $1 billion, but still growing slow

Discussing Intelsat’s financial performance for July, August and September, Spengler said the operator’s Epic high-throughput satellites have accumulated over $1 billion in customer commitments, though capacity sales on the second such satellite continue to progress slower than anticipated.

Spengler’s mention of Epic’s backlog provided a rare glimpse into the quantity of capacity sales for the U.S. and Luxembourg-based company. Intelsat doesn’t disclose the fill rate on Epic satellites, of which five are now in orbit constituting around 40 percent of the capacity in the company’s entire fleet of roughly 50 geostationary satellites. High-throughput satellites (HTS) use smaller beams and frequency reuse to increase the amount of capacity they can carry compared to traditional wide-beam satellites. Intelsat’s total backlog stood at $7.9 billion as of Sept. 30, down from $8.2 billion at the end of the previous quarter. Epic HTS customers now account for more than an eighth of Intelsat’s backlog.

The rest of Intelsat’s non-Epic fleet has an average fill rate of 78 percent.

Spengler said Epic is growing and gaining customers, but that the slower than desired rate of customer gain for Intelsat-33e continues to stem from mobile network operators with lengthy decision making.

“We don’t see this as a matter of losing business but as a matter of timing going forward,” he said.

Jacques Kerrest, Intelsat’s chief financial officer, said the company has gained $28 million so far from an insurance claim on Intelsat-33, which suffered two propulsion issues — one on the primary thruster to reach orbit and another with its station-keeping system. The company is seeking $78 million in insurance for the defects, which are projected to reduced the satellite’s intended service life by 3.5 years. “We continue to discuss this with the insurers,” he said.

Intelsat reported a net loss of $30.4 million on $538.8 million in third quarter revenue. Due to slow Epic capacity sales, the company anticipates generating hitting the low end of its revenue guidance for the full year, which forecasts between $2.15 billion and $2.18 billion.

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Google says a third of C-band dishes registered with the FCC aren’t used

Lots of C-band satellite dishes are unregistered, but of those that are registered with the FCC, up to a third don’t exist or aren’t used, according to Google. Credit: russellstreet /Flickr (Creative Commons)

WASHINGTON — Earth-observation data shows that one in three C-band satellite dishes registered with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission either don’t exist or aren’t in use, a spectrum official at Google said last week.

The number of unregistered C-band dishes dwarfs that of registered dishes, according to fleet operator Intelsat, but the paucity of hard data on how heavily C-band is truly used is a recognized irritation to the FCC and other telecom regulatory agencies.

Presenting information that could factor heavily into the commission’s decision-making on how to expand the use of C-band, Andrew Clegg, spectrum engineering lead at Google, said Oct. 13 that the company found numerous dishes were absent at database-listed coordinates, either having been removed or having never existed in the first place.

“We looked at all 4,700 registered earth stations using Google Earth imagery and found in 29 percent of the cases, the registered dishes aren’t even there,” Clegg said at the Americas Spectrum Management Conference here. “If we looked at historical imagery, we could see that in some cases those dishes used to be there and were taken out, with the registration never taken off the books. In some cases we saw that the dishes never existed at all, but they are still on the books.”

When factoring in the 29 percent missing “plus probably a greater percentage that aren’t operating anymore, roughly a third of the registrations are not active,” he said, based on Google research. “We think the database really needs to be cleaned up.”

Speaking on the same panel, Hazem Moakkit, Intelsat’s vice president of corporate and spectrum strategy, said recent discussions with a small broadcaster revealed that that customer had more than half as many unregistered C-band dishes for their customers alone than the FCC has in all of the agency’s records.

“Only one of our customers told us that they have 3,000 earth stations that are not registered,” he said. “They are one of the smaller broadcasters and they don’t deal with registration. We have to factor that into the equation.”

By that metric, Intelsat customers alone have multiple times what the FCC has documented in C-band dishes. Competitor SES also has a large C-band customer base in the United States, and other operators have a smaller but not inconsequential presence.

Moakkit said the onus remains on customers and not satellite operators to register terminals and keep that information fresh. Thousands of receive-only satellite dishes stay unregistered because the FCC allows it, he said. Nevertheless, that Intelsat-customer discussion meant to better gauge how many dishes are in use provided a vague proxy as to the decisively larger fraction of unregistered dishes.

Unreliable data on how many C-band terminals are active has been a sticking point with regulators in the U.S. and internationally as they try to gauge how heavily the satellite industry truly relies on spectrum. In an Oct. 13 speech at the conference, FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly said he wants the agency to ensure “updated and complete information about incumbent operations is in the FCC databases.”

“At a minimum, the commission needs a better understanding of the current number of C-band earth stations in existence. This is the only means the commission has to truly evaluate current use and protection mechanisms to the extent that they are necessary,” he said.

Satellite operators say their customers — particularly broadcasters with receive-only C-band dishes — often don’t register their dishes, and that enforcing registrations is beyond operators’ control. Without those numbers, the satellite industry has argued that its use of C-band is substantially greater than what’s accounted for by regulators, but hasn’t been able to back those claims with numbers.

Space-based imagery could, ironically, force satellite operators to address the dearth of information more seriously.

The FCC is evaluating ways to let mobile communications companies use C-band, especially for 5G, the fifth generation of mobile networks. Moakkit said each new technology generation — be it 3G, 4G or now 5G —  has grown into a “crescendo of repeated attempts to repurpose C-band.”

Sensing the crescendo growing louder than before, Intelsat teamed up with Intel to submit a proposal that would have satellite operators clear C-band in part or in full around metropolitan areas in exchange for financial compensation from mobile users. Several other satellite operators have either deferred opinions or publicly spoken against the idea.

Google is also a critic of Intelsat and Intel’s proposal. Clegg said Google doubts Intelsat’s timeline — that industry-led spectrum clearing could open up C-band in one to three years — and would rather support an approach that first uses the band for fixed broadband access. Mobile user access would come later, he said.

Moakkit said Google’s plan would only muddy the situation by introducing a second incumbent ahead of mobile operators that would then both demand protection.

“For us in the satellite industry, particularly for Intelsat as the largest holder of C-band rights for satellite around the globe, the most important objective is to ensure that we can protect our customers and protect the services that we provide,” he said.

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Op-Ed | Intelsat’s Myopia on C-band

The recent proposal made by Intelsat and Intel in response to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) request for proposals on how the satellite industry and the mobile networks can coexist took many of us by surprise. Intelsat until recently has been a fervent champion of the protection of C-band for priority use by satellite operations. For them to propose to vacate C-band antennas from major urban centers to remote areas in exchange to be financially compensated by mobile operators may seem to be astute from some perspectives in the short term but it may also bring down its own and the rest of the satellite operator business interests around the globe.

During the last World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) , satellite operators and the majority of countries successfully held back forces behind mobile operators to preserve C-band and 28 GHz from being assigned to mobile services. Certainly the FCC was one of the most vocal opponents to the conclusion of the WRC 2015 and it continues to be very critical of the satellite industry in disagreeing with its proposal to reassign C-band and 28 GHz to mobility applications. Its chairman recently even threatened to abandon the United Nations International Telecommunication Union (ITU) altogether to make its own direction if its decisions are not followed at the ITU. The opponents of this position, including Intelsat till recently, made it very clear that C-band is the lifeline frequency of choice for many countries and operators for mission critical applications such as communications and television broadcasting services. A significant portion of the $16 billion annual Fixed Satellite Services (FSS) revenues come from C-band services. Despite its usage decline in the U.S. and Europe, C-band contracts represent a significant portion of the backlog for many satellite operators including Intelsat. This is why I find Intelsat’s motives even more puzzling because of the global ramifications which could follow if the FCC would move forward with this proposal. It risks not only its own survival but also the financial stability of our entire FSS industry.

We should begin with the larger question: does Intelsat or any other GEO C-band operator own any part of C-band frequencies used in their respective GEO orbits for terrestrial use? ITU radio regulations state that satellite frequencies belong to administrations or countries where the filings are made so as long those rules are followed. These rules are made and agreed by all the members of the ITU and from time to time are newly created or amended as the members see fit during the World Radiocommunication Conferences, with the next one to be held, WRC 2019. the ITU radio regulations currently state that the standard C-band today has a priority for Space-to-Earth and Earth-to-Space in the 3.7 to 4.2 GHz and 5.9 to 6.4 GHz respectively. These regulations allow point-to-point microwave use of C-band terrestrially so as long as they protect satellite operations. This is a position agreed by all the countries to follow. The right of use of these satellite C-band frequencies belong to the countries and administrations, not the satellite operators themselves. In the case of Intelsat, I believe most of their GEO orbit frequencies belong to the FCC and the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization, ITSO. I don’t know if ITSO itself had agreed with this proposal, but if Intelsat did this without consulting with ITSO, they may have offered to trade something which they don’t own.

Beyond the ownership of the spectrum issue, there is a bigger implication to this proposed step which may severely backfire on Intelsat and the rest of the FSS industry. No administration till today, outside the ITU process, has unilaterally decided to change the ITU regulations and assign terrestrial mobile services to be priority in C-band. If the FCC follows through with this recommendation unilaterally, it could set a dangerous precedent. As I have described in an earlier publication, the United States and the FCC happens to be one of the five countries that occupy 90 percent of global C- and Ku-band orbital slots. Its satellite operators who operate under its filings, including Intelsat, enjoy the benefits derived from years of frequency priority all over the world, including countries that depend upon satellite operating in C-band, including those in South America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands. If the FCC sets the precedent that any one country can unilaterally declare national sovereignty (meaning make its own rules) over satellite C-band, why couldn’t every other nation follow suit? If every nation from Mexico to Mauritius to Malaysia can declare standard C-band is up for grabs for terrestrial use, what would happen to Intelsat’s business let alone the business of SES, Eutelsat, Telesat and every other satellite operator global and regional?

If many other nations decided to follow ‘nationalising’ C-band spectrum and turned it over to their own mobile operators, Intelsat could quickly find that they could no longer carry C-band services for its customers for many parts of the world. As such they could lose billions of dollars of backlog and they will find it much more challenging to service their debts. Moreover what entity would be 100 percent motivated to make sure this happens exactly in every country? It would be the company that is trying to set the next generation 5G mobile standard, Intel of course. The very entity that Intelsat is supposedly teaming up with in the U.S. would use this as precedence to go to each and every country to “nationalize” C-band to the very detriment of Intelsat and, sadly, the rest of the FSS industry. Intelsat may try to argue they would need to be compensated by any other foreign government to give up “their” C-band, but their shouts and cries could seriously fall to deaf ears because there is no guarantee that mobile operators in the U.S. or any other country in the world would agree to compensate satellite operators to use the satellite C-band frequencies.

An avalanche starts with a snow flake, and if Intelsat’s proposal starts the toppling of the dominos, no one will know how this will end for themselves and the rest of the satellite industry because we cannot fathom where it would end: it may not just end with C-band but continue onto Ku- and Ka-band as well. When I grew up I played a lot of chess — of course I was not an expert but I learned very early that every move has a consequence and one must plan not the very next move but the multiple moves in advance if you are to have a chance at success. Intelsat has by making this proposal now created the possibility that our C-band antennas can somehow be migrated away from our cable TV customers for the benefit of the mobile industry. In their myopic search for short term cash, they may have set in motion actions and consequences which undermines one of the pillars of their assets, their global satellite C-band priority (as well as everyone else’s) in 40-plus orbital slots around the world. By teaming up with Intel, one of our industry’s biggest nemeses, Intelsat may have opened the cage and let in a tiger to our midst who will take this opportunity to undermine satellite C-band on a global scale. Let’s hope that all the sheep in the cage survive this mistake, including the one that let the tiger in. The rest of the FSS industry must continue to do everything in their power to protect the priority use of satellite allocated C-band for not only our own interests but the interests of our customers who are depending on us for their future operations. Finally with all due respect, we should ask all regulatory bodies to preserve the legitimacy of the ITU process and as such if there are to be any changes in the current regulations we should discourage any unilateral changes on a national basis and agree to do them collectively in the next WRC 2019.

Tom Choi is the co-founder and chief executive of satellite telecommunications operator ABS. 

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FCC commissioner O’Rielly gives Intel-Intelsat C-band proposal a positive early review

FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly at Hudson Institute in 2014 (Wikicommons).

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is still sifting through industry ideas for opening  satellite-dominated C-band spectrum to terrestrial telecommunications, and while not yet reaching a conclusion, considers Intel and Intelsat’s proposed spectrum clearing plan a positive step.

The agency has evaluated comments industry submitted over the summer, and is now “trying to figure out what the best mechanism is for moving forward,” FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly said Oct. 13 at the Americas Spectrum Management Conference here.

“I’m trying to figure out what’s the best mechanism to provide mobile service in this band, whether it be protection of incumbent uses in earth stations, or whether it be market mechanisms, and when I see Intel coordinate and combine with Intelsat, a large satellite provider, or at least today, I think that that’s very beneficial and provides one mechanism to look at closely,” O’Rielly said.

Intelsat and Intel filed an 11th hour proposal urging the FCC to leave it to satellite operators to clear parts of the C-band spectrum for future 5G networks on a case-by-case basis with terrestrial operators. Satellite operators would migrate C-band users out of the band or to a different part of the band in exchange for financial compensation from 5G C-band users for transition costs and lost opportunities.

The FCC asked industry, through am August notice of intent, for ideas on how to optimize the use of mid-band spectrum, which starts from 3.7 GHz in the C-band and stretches to 24 GHz. C-band, used extensively in the United States and globally for satellite television broadcasts, ranges from 3.4 to 4.2 GHz, though the FCC already gave 3.4 to 3.7 GHz to other purposes.

O’Rielly said of the proposals received, most support sharing C-band with incumbent users, i.e. satellite operators. Some proposals note the FCC’s ability to forcefully reallocate incumbents and cover the costs by auctioning the spectrum, he said.

O’Rielly highlighted Intelsat and Intel’s proposal, along with one from Qualcomm to let mobile operators share C-band while it is cleared for auction, as notable ideas to expand use of the spectrum.

“These are just some of the interesting ideas raised in the record, and in my opinion it’s too early to determine which are the most viable. The details must still be worked out as to how these various proposals would work and whether sharing is feasible. While the meat still has to be put on the bones, this is a good start,” he said.

O’Rielly said the U.S. is “at a disadvantage compared to other countries when it comes to licensed spectrum below 5G,” increasing the urgency for spectrum to become available. 5G requires substantially more capacity than 4G or previous standards, and the cry from mobile operators to wrench C-band from the hands of satellite operators has grown steadily louder with the proliferation of smartphones.

The satellite industry fended off mobile sector efforts to obtain most of C-band two years ago at the International Telecommunication Union’s quadrennial World Radiocommunication Conference in Geneva, mainly losing just 3.4 to 3.6 GHz as opposed to the entire band. O’Rielly said C-band is the “prime location” to address the U.S.’s dearth of mid-band spectrum, but that he doesn’t want to upend the business plan of satellite operators who have invested heavily there for decades.

“I respect and work very closely with my satellite friends in the industry for decades now, and so I am not interested in disrupting their overall operation,” he said.

How to reconcile those two goals is still unclear. O’Rielly said the FCC needs a better understanding of how many C-band earth stations are used in the U.S., since many are unregistered, making it difficult to measure the extent to which U.S. telecommunications relies on the spectrum.

“This is the only means the commission has to truly evaluate current use and protection mechanisms to the extent that they are necessary,” he said.

Intelsat and SES are the two  satellite operators with the highest number of C-band earth stations in the United States. SES said Oct. 3 that it is still analysing Intelsat and Intel’s proposal. Global operator Eutelsat, which has a smaller presence, said the proposal caught them off guard and they are in a similar state of analysis.

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Q&A | Intelsat’s Stephen Spengler on HTS, life post-OneWeb merger attempt, and in-orbit servicing

Stephen Spengler, chief executive officer, Intelsat. Credit: Intelsat.

WASHINGTON and MOSCOW — Five years ago this month, Intelsat ordered the first of what is now six high-throughput Epic-class satellites. That soon-to-be global network is now mostly in orbit, with the fifth satellite, Intelsat-37e, launching Sept. 29, and Horizons-3e, a shared satellite with Sky Perfect Jsat, launching in 2018.

The addition of Epic to Intelsat’s fleet is helping improv the company’s balance sheet, albeit more slowly than expected. The new revenue and the promise flat panel antennas portend for a larger addressable market have Intelsat optimistic about its future.

But the market for high-throughput satellite (HTS) services is quickly becoming more competitive. Many in industry are already slapping new adjectives (very, ultra, extreme) on their HTS offerings to differentiate next- and next-next-generation services.

Those new HTS systems are in a mix of geostationary and non-geostationary orbits, and some operators claim they will provide terabits of capacity.

Intelsat CEO Stephen Spengler is not worried about Epic competing in this new HTS world. Epic satellites are generating revenue, and OneWeb, despite this year’s failed merger attempt, remains a very close partner.

Spengler attended World Satellite Business Week in Paris earlier this month for only the first day, returning to the U.S. for Goldman Sachs’ 26th Annual Communacopia Conference in New York. Spengler spoke ahead of the conference with SpaceNews Staff Writer Caleb Henry.

Intelsat was one of the early investors in high-throughput technology. There are now a lot of new so-called VHTS systems planned for GEO and LEO. What are your thoughts on these, and has any of this changed Epic?

The name doesn’t really matter so much — that’s not what’s important. What is important is to recognize that the entire industry is innovating and we are all seeking ways to improve satellite capacity economics for our customers. We are doing that with Intelsat Epic. It’s important to note in our Intelsat Epic fleet, it’s not six satellites that are identical. Each one that we build, we are building with the latest technology that’s going to maximize the performance, throughput and economics we can offer.

While the satellite capacity is critical, it’s not the entire story. What we want to be bringing is increased capability for our customers. There’s a couple of ways to look at it, you can look at capabilities of a single satellite. We look at it more as capabilities that form an entire constellation — Intelsat Epic, plus some of our broad beam satellites — and then layering on multiple HTS capabilities, like OneWeb.

A lot of customers are not single-satellite-focused users. If you look at aeronautical or maritime applications, or future land mobility applications like connected car, these are customers that are looking for global or super-regional solutions that one satellite is not going to satisfy.

For user terminals, over the next 12 months what do you hope to see change?

Getting the antennas developed so they can support new applications like Internet of Things, land mobility, connected cars or connected vehicles of different types, and getting the right form factor to support other types of aeronautical applications in addition to commercial jetliners, this is really important. Being able to do that will, along with the dramatically improved capabilities in space, allow for the market to develop and expand, and enable new segments of the market that are not available today for satellite services.

And this is not just a GEO question. One of the key parts of our relationship with OneWeb is to develop a terminal that is both GEO and LEO capable. These antennas and terminal electronics are advancing to the point where we believe we can bring services to our customers that access both orbits, and that’s probably just the beginning. There are a lot of other possibilities that will unlock as well.

Will the GEO-LEO terminal be ready by the time OneWeb begins commercial operation?

That is our plan. That is the track we are on.

Do you have a release date?

We haven’t announced anything specific in that regard yet. We are still very much in the engineering, design and development phase.

OneWeb has mentioned an interest from other operators in potentially buying them, but given the way the OneWeb-Softbank-Intelsat merger was structured, there is still some connective tissue between Intelsat and OneWeb. If another operator bought OneWeb, what would that look like for Intelsat? Is it possible for OneWeb to be purchased with the arrangement Intelsat and Softbank currently have in place?

You are talking about a hypothetical, obviously, but what I can say is we established a partnership with OneWeb and Softbank prior to any merger discussions we had earlier this year. That partnership was established and in place at that time, and that partnership is active today. We’ve been extremely engaged with both companies, both on the development of the technology and the interoperable technology we talked about as well as go-to market strategies for the verticals where we have distribution responsibility for Softbank.

We have distribution responsibilities for mobility, land, sea and air; we have distribution responsibilities for government communications, cellular backhaul, some corporate networking applications and the connected car. Those agreements in our view are rock-solid.

Jeffries put out a research note Sept. 8 that said they see every reason for a merger reattempt at the appropriate time. Could we be looking at a take-two further down the road?

Our focus right now is on our partnership with OneWeb and Softbank. Merger discussions ended not because we weren’t able to get agreement with Softbank or OneWeb; those merger agreements ended because our bondholders did not want to accept the economic terms that we proposed, and we weren’t able to negotiate an agreement. If conditions change and there’s a willingness to have a conversation about a price where both of us can agree to, I guess it’s theoretically possible, but right now we are focused on developing the business with OneWeb and Softbank.

Where does Intelsat stand financially today compared to this time last year?

If you look at our quarterly performance, you are seeing more stability compared to the previous couple of years. While we still face headwinds in our business, we also still see excellent growth in our media business, excellent growth in our mobility sector. We see encouraging signs in those areas and we can see continued advancement of services on the Intelsat Epic fleet.

On the financial side, we did a refinancing just a couple months ago. That was successful in moving our 2019 maturities out eight years to 2025. That was a good move for our balance sheet. We have more to do always, but we continue to be able to manage that effectively.

It’s still a tough marketplace. Everyone sees that. But we are making steady progress to our long term goals and executing on our operational priorities that we wanted to execute on in 2017.

What are some of Intelsat’s near-term plans to bring that $14.5 billion debt load down?

The No. 1 move is to grow again. That’s the important thing for us to move toward a position where we increase our top line and adjusted EBITDA so we can generate more cash to address that balance sheet. We are always watching our expenditures carefully, and so we have a period of time right now where we’ve provided guidance for our capex (capital expenditures) over the next few years that is lower than it has been in recent years. It’s part of our normal cycle, we are continuing to invest in new satellites, capabilities and ground networks, but these next few years will be a little lighter. That gives more flexibility on the balance sheet as well. Those are the things we are going to keep focused on and we are going to keep looking for opportunities that can make more of a substantial difference whenever we can see one.

From your perspective, is the internet opportunity, led by mobility, one that will eclipse broadcast video?

From a growth-rate percentage, it’s already running at a higher rate across the board because it’s relatively new compared to video, which is more mature … but in terms of total size, the market still has a long way to go in terms of penetration. While there are a lot of commercial aircraft connected with broadband, there’s still more to go. There’s a long backlog for the providers to install more planes. You have business jets, government jets and smaller regional and commuter jets that have yet to be connected.

Maritime, while big ships are connected, there are still a lot that don’t have broadband. And then land mobility — connecting trains and buses and cars — is still in the early stages. All of those have IoT components too. It’s not just connecting people, but machines, devices and gathering data. There’s a lot of opportunity in those sectors and we are at the early stages. It should be a strong market for satellite in particular because of our unique ability to serve those markets.

Intelsat is Orbital ATK’s first Mission Extension Vehicle customer. Will you use that vehicle to service multiple satellites?

We do envision using it for one satellite, though I think we could service multiple satellites if we wanted to by splitting up the five-year contract. But our current view is to extend a particular satellite five years.

This is an opportunity for us to do a couple of things. One is it allows us to support revenue generating satellites that are otherwise healthy, but just running low on fuel. Second, it allows us to continue to serve customers without causing them to switch satellites or relocate. We like that part of it a lot, and it also gives us more flexibility from a capex standpoint.

If we can continue to serve customers with the current generation technology very well, extending those services for a couple of years, this gives us the ability to delay those capex investments for a replacement. Most importantly, it also allows us more time for technology to develop. There’s an awful lot of enhancements and developments going on in satellite and space technology, and having the ability to extend for a few years gives us the opportunity to get the latest capability when we do replace a particular satellite of that type. We are looking forward to putting that mission extension vehicle into operation and making it part of our fleet-planning.

Intelsat was previously signed on as a customer for MDA’s satellite servicer plans, which they’ve since resurrected. Did Intelsat considered MDA’s offering before going with Orbital?

At the time we made our commitment, it wasn’t as mature as it is right now. We are looking at all the technologies and felt that for what we wanted to do in a certain timeframe, the Orbital ATK solution was the right one. But we are very positive about the developments of a number of different companies in this area that are exploring these techniques to not only extend the life of satellites but potentially do in-orbit servicing, repairs or other things in space. We are going to continue to look at it and see how we can use these types of technologies in the future. It could be from different vendors.

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