Consultations: Non-geostationary satellite systems

  • Start: 26 July 2021
  • Status: Open
  • End: 20 September 2021

One of Ofcom’s major priorities is getting everyone connected. We want to make sure people and businesses can access key communications services and to improve access to broadband services in the hardest-to-reach locations.

There are a range of terrestrial technologies that can provide broadband services. In addition, satellite broadband can be suited to connecting remote areas which do not have reliable mobile or fixed broadband. To date, the performance of these services has been limited by the time delay (latency) caused by signals travelling the long distance to the satellite and data caps that are commonly imposed. There are relatively few satellite broadband customers in the UK.

There are new broadband satellites systems being developed, which use many satellites in a non-geostationary satellite orbit (NGSO) closer to the Earth than earlier satellites. These offer lower latency and greater capacity. A number of companies are developing these systems (for example Amazon, OneWeb, SpaceX, and Telesat) and we want to enable as many of them as possible to provide services and increase choice for people and businesses in the UK.

NGSO systems are technically more complex than earlier satellite broadband systems as they plan to use many hundreds, if not thousands, of satellites orbiting the Earth. Satellite dishes need to track these satellites as they move across the sky, unlike existing satellite networks where the dishes are fixed pointing at a single satellite which is stationary in the sky.

This means it is more complex for NGSO satellite operators to agree how to operate their networks without causing harmful radio interference to each other. They are required to do this under the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Radio Regulations, although in many cases these agreements are yet to be concluded. This creates a risk that interference between NGSO networks could cause localised degradation to the quality and reliability of these services.

We therefore propose to update our approach to licensing NGSO systems. In particular, where possible, we want to ensure that that quality of services is not adversely impacted. To do this we are proposing new checks on interference risks when we consider NGSO licence applications, along with greater visibility of those applications, as well as strengthening our ability to deal with harmful interference if it occurs.

We also want to mitigate the risk of earlier systems hindering the deployment of those coming later because of the interference they could cause, and therefore potentially restricting competition. To do this we are proposing new checks on competition when we consider NGSO licence applications.

Responding to this consultation

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