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Satellite group alleges perceived ACMA bias in favour of mobile players

Communication Alliance's satellite services working group has called on the Australian Communications and Media Authority to give the same weight to the satellite industry as it does to the mobile broadband sector. In a submission to the ACMA's five-year spectrum outlook consultation, the group said the current FYSO document left an impression of mobile broadband as the dominant driver of the regulator's portfolio of activities.

“The satellite industry seems to suffer from a lack of profile and status in Australia,” the SSWG submission stated. “The value and intensity of high throughput satellites system developments, broadband and narrow band applications (Internet of Things), advances in speed, latency, and bandwidth of contemporary GSO and NGSO solutions are not being given the regulatory recognition they deserve in the total picture. There is a need to broaden the focus of the regulator wherever possible.”

In a section on “neutrality”, the group called on ACMA to devote a broader sensitivity to other services and industries that use spectrum, including those which it said form an equally or at least important part of the broadband future. “As the national communications regulatory body, the ACMA is expected to be an independent regulator, acting in the public interest, that is seen to be neutral, balancing its role in considering demands for future technologies and applications in spectrum use against existing uses today,” it said.

“In terms of priorities in the work program, the SSWG would argue for a better treatment of satellite elements of the work program, and encourages the ACMA to develop a more level and neutral playing field. Resource constraints can otherwise strangle the satellite business from a regulatory perspective,” the group warned. SPECTRUM BATTLES AHEAD: The SSWG detailed a raft of key areas where it suggests the satellite sector's interests need to be taken into account, including those related to the Ka, S, C, L, V and Q spectrum bands, ESIMs, refarming and the future of connected vehicles.

The submission came shortly after the ACMA announced that it would be dropping the cost of Ka-band licensing – a move welcomed by the group. However, it also told the regulator that it remained concerned that the ACMA had decided that a further reduction of licence fees was not justified in Australia-wide and high-density areas.

Part of the reasoning for the more moderate reductions in these areas was because of possible future demands from 5G. However, the SSWG argued that a larger reduction for the Australia-wide and high-density licence fees was justified, given the similar lack of congestion as for medium density areas.

“While the SSWG agrees that parts of the Ka-band are being actively considered for 5G services by the ITU and other jurisdictions such as the USA and South Korea, it does not agree that this, somehow, justifies more moderate licence fee reductions than originally contemplated as this treats fees for the entire 17.3 to 31.5 GHz band the same,” the submission noted.

“As a matter of principle, the SSWG considers that the ACMA should not be setting fees for utilising spectrum in Australia based on allocation decisions in other jurisdictions. It is regrettable that the vibrant and growing satellite services will, as a result of this decision, be burdened with higher licence fees in the entire 17.3 to 51.4GHz band, even those frequencies not currently being considered for 5G.”

 Another key future spectrum battleground is likely to be around the use of the 3.6 GHz band, which the ACMA has previously suggested could be re-farmed for mobile broadband services. The SSWG has previously argued against the forced re-location of its satellite facilities to low density population areas in so called “satellite parks”, and it said in its submission that it maintains that position.

“The need to establish new facilities in remote areas, to connect those new facilities to the major cities, and to relocate or purchase new equipment would require many millions of dollars in capital expenditure. Finding or relocating personnel for duty at such locations will also be difficult and expensive.”

 “The SSWG opposes re-farming the bands if this means that FSS-ESs from the 3.6GHz band would need to be vacated,” it said. An area where the group wants to see more urgent action is around the development of the licensing framework for Earth Stations In Motion – terminals that are designed to be used on aircraft, ships and land vehicles – at 29.5 to 30GHz.

It wants the ACMA to bring forward completion of the framework from the end of 2017 to mid-2017, noting that ESIM services are already appearing in Australia. “The Alliance considers that the work program should be either anticipating or matching the pace of international developments. ESIMs for aeronautical communications (Wi-Fi) should also be given the forward attention it needs by the ACMA in order to encourage these services in Australian airline flights in either Ka or Ku band,” the submission said.

“This is to ensure that Australian airline services are not left behind in comparison with services being offered by leading international airlines.” CommsDay understands that Communications Alliance, together with the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association, will also shortly lodge a second submission on behalf of mobile and other non-satellite members. Geoff Long