AsiaSat, ProtoStar spat now very public

Normally, satellite operators are extremely polite. But if there’s one topic that frequently causes blood to boil it is the question of the co-ordination of satellite frequencies. An especially ugly spat has broken out between Hong Kong-based AsiaSat and ProtoStar, a satellite operator that was originally licensed by Singapore, is nominally based in Bermuda but exists to serve the Asian community – including DISH Network in India.

In India, ProtoStar – or at least some of its capacity - is better known as the Agrani satellite, backed and financed by Zee TV’s parent company. Each and every satellite has to coordinate its frequencies via a well-established formula administered by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in Geneva. Officially, ProtoStar 1, which launched on July 7 was launched too late and failed to meet an obligation to get itself into orbit by a June 28 deadline.

These deadlines are often missed, but the ITU is well within its rights to forbid it to transmit, especially when potentially overlapping frequencies have not been precisely agreed between adjacent operators.

Peter Jackson, CEO of AsiaSat, told Satellite Finance a few weeks ago that: "The [ProtoStar] Ku band is an issue, but it's the C-Band on the satellite that's going to be the real problem, [as] it is going to interfere with a number of satellites. I know that the Chinese national operator has a problem because they are only a half a degree away with Chinasat 22, and Thuraya has a problem because they have a satellite right at 98.5°. New Skies will have issues as well."

AsiaSat continues to argue that ProtoStar has yet to complete its orbital co-ordination obligations, and China’s Ministry of Industry & Information Technology is also grumbling. AsiaSat says that it reserves the right to take action to “eliminate any interference caused by [ProtoStar]”. This means closing down transponders.

ProtoStar, therefore, seems to be in a confused legal situation, without the shelter of any regulatory support, although ProtoStar says it does have support from a government – except it seems not to be saying which one. One well-informed source says ProtoStar’s new “best friend” is Belarus and the InterSputnik operation.

An AsiaSat statement said: “Due to overlapping geographic coverage and frequencies, ProtoStar-I will have to operate on a non-interfering basis if it has to operate at 98.5°E. This could mean that it may have to operate at very low power levels and use larger antennas, or even switch off the overlapping transponders in order to accommodate other users with higher priority.”

The loser in all this confusion is almost certainly going to be Zee TV’s Dish Network, operating out of New Delhi, which badly needed Agrani/ProtoStar for its channel expansion.