Breathless reportage in advertiser-friendly trade mag Space News this week claimed that O3b founder Greg Wyler will be launching 700 satellites to deliver Internet services along with his new BFF Elon Musk. His last BFF, according to Space News over the Summer was Google. But then industry insiders heard that he was unceremoniously expelled from the Googleplex, presumably for overstepping the mark with his big talk about satellite constellations and rather wild assumptions about what is possible.
But the most surprising element of the story, for an allegedly expert journal is their unquestioning commentary about the spectrum Wyler plans to use. Space News say that WorldVu has secured regulatory approval from the ITU to use 2GHz of Ku band spectrum in its low earth orbit. It seems the truth might be a little different.
Industry experts put us in the picture. WorldVu has filed its first advance publication (API) for the NGSO constellation under ITU name “L5” in 27th November 2012 which gives them the opportunity to “bring into use” the spectrum before 27th June 2019 and subsequently its “request for coordination” information (CRC) was published in 27th June 2013.
According to the ITU data base the L5 satellite constellation needs to fulfil the frequency coordination requirements laid down under Radio Regulation provisions 9.12 (in respect of any other satellite network using a non-geostationary-satellite orbit) and 9.7B (in respect of a specific earth station in a geostationary-satellite). Under provision 9.7B and 9.12 “L5” has a specific coordination requirement with the following Administrations: China, Spain, Japan, Russia, USA, Australia, UK.
WorldVu satellites would constantly pass in between geo satellites and their users’ dishes on the ground. Operating in Ku band means interfering with pretty much every satellite TV broadcaster in the World. Since WorldVu does not have superior filings, as denoted by the need to co-ordinate, it would have to ensure that it can prove the absence of harmful interference. In practice, this means that every time a satellite passes between a Ku band TV satellite and a user dish, it would have to switch off, in order to avoid interference, and switch traffic to another satellite NOT in a position to cause interference. Even then, the strategy to avoid interference would have to meet the reasonable agreement of the superior filing holder. We think it is very unlikely that the World’s TV satellite broadcasters would easily walk into a position of taking risk with interference with an unproven concept. This is why the first system to try to do this, Skybridge, failed.
So, the strangely Wyler-friendly Space News’ claim that “WorldVu has secured regulatory approval for the use of Ku-band spectrum in a NGSO constellation” is not utterly truthful and accurate. A frequency band can only be claimed to be secured if it has been entered in the ITU Master Register which can only be done after the frequency is brought into use and coordination by the ITU identified networks are completed. There is nothing to stop investors pumping billions into a totally unproven system with questionable technical and commercial merits and the most complex switching requirement in space history. But there are plenty of government users and companies standing in line with the legal right to stop it from ever getting regulatory rights to use the spectrum.