EU backs single satellite licensing

Last week we reported on Brussels’ plans to issue a single market approval and licensing process covering all 27 European countries for newly emerging satellite-based communication services. High-speed data, mobile TV, emergency disaster relief and remote medical services are expected to benefit from the new rules. More detail has now emerged.

Brussels has now opened up a competition for providers of satellite services to bid for spectrum and matching licences.

"Mobile satellite services have the tremendous advantage of being able to cover most of the EU's territory thereby reaching millions of EU citizens across borders. They represent an unprecedented opportunity for all Europeans to access new communication services, and this not only in metropolitan areas, but also in rural and less populated regions," said EU Media & Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding. "However, these satellite services depend on substantial investment and therefore need simple and swift procedures as well as long-term legal certainty. This is why the Commission, in close cooperation with the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, set up, in a record time of only ten months, a single EU procedure for selecting interested operators of mobile satellite services. There is now one market, not 27 in Europe for mobile satellite services. Henceforth, the ball is in the camp of the industry. I expect intense competition among operators offering satellite-based communication services reaching consumers from the North of Sweden to the South of Spain. This could pave the way for first satellite launches already in the course of 2009."

The EU competition among satellite operators is claimed to be a first, as it takes place under a single European selection procedure. Until now, in spite of the clear cross-border dimension of satellite services, existing national rules obstructed the creation of a single market for mobile satellite services by leaving the selection of operators to each Member State. The result was a divergence in national approaches that created a patchwork of procedures, legal uncertainty and a substantial competitive disadvantage for the satellite industry in Europe.

This EU decision was adopted by the European Parliament and the Council and came into force on 5 July 2008. It establishes common EU rules for the use of the 2 Ghz bands by mobile satellite services. This will not only simplify and speed up licensing procedures for operators – encouraging investment and the roll out of mobile satellite services – but at the same time make sure that these services cover at least 60% of the EU's territory – an important step towards gradually achieving coverage of all EU Member States.

Interested companies have until October 7 to present their applications to the European Commission. During the first phase of the selection process, technical and commercial ability of the candidates to launch their systems in time will be assessed. The criteria in the second selection phase include, among other things: the speed at which all Member States will be covered; the range of services, including in rural areas, and the number of end-users to be served and the capacity of the system to fulfil public policy objectives and spectrum efficiency. All Member States must ensure that selected candidates have the right to operate in their country. Depending on the number of candidates, the Commission expects that the selection procedure can be completed in the first part of 2009. First satellite launches could take place in 2009.

This decision is key to new upcoming services such as those planned by the SES-Eutelsat j-v Solaris Mobile, which is expected to launch early in 2009. "Henceforth, the ball is in the camp of the industry," said Commissioner Reding.