September 23, 2021

U.K. to make OneWeb, Starlink, or other NGSO constellations more regulated

2 min read

Ofcom, the British telecom’s regulator, is proposing regulation changes that might affect OneWeb, Starlink, and other non-geostationary satellite constellations (NGSO). Companies are finding it increasingly difficult to concur on how to run their NGSO networks without generating harmful radio interference to one another, according to an Ofcom consultation document released on July 26. Under the ITU (International Telecommunication Union) radio standards, NGSO operators are expected to coordinate their networks; however, Ofcom noted that “in many cases,” these arrangements have yet to be completed.

“As a result, there is a danger that interference between the NGSO networks will result in a localized reduction of service quality and reliability,” it said. In NGSO, SpaceX’s Starlink constellation is believed to have about 1,600 satellites, while OneWeb in the United Kingdom has 254 and Kepler Communications in Canada has around 15. All of them want to extend their network considerably. Telesat, Amazon’s Project Kuiper, as well as other NGSO projects are rushing to join them in the low Earth orbit with their big constellations.

When considering NGSO license applications, Ofcom suggests new checks for interference risks and more effective instruments to manage with them if they arise. A public comment time that closes on Sept. 20 stated it is also pursuing more transparency into licensing applications. After the consultation period, Ofcom expects to issue a public announcement by the end of 2021 to verify and execute licensing adjustments.

“We also aim to reduce the danger of older systems obstructing the deployment of later systems due to interference they may create, possibly restricting competition,” Ofcom noted in the document. “To do this, we propose enhanced competition tests when we evaluate NGSO license applications.” The revisions impact Ofcom-issued “Satellite (Earth Station Network)” licenses, which any operator supplying services in the United Kingdom can apply for. If they intend to utilize NGSO user terminals, they must have this.

The rules governing Ofcom’s “Satellite (Non-Geostationary Earth Station)” licenses, which allow gateways to link to in-orbit networks, are also set to change. If new guidelines are issued, Ofcom says a “limited number” of existing licenses will need to be changed. Starlink, OneWeb, and Kepler already have “Satellite (Earth Station Network)” licenses from Ofcom for operating in the United Kingdom.

During the consultation period, Ofcom has stated that it will not be accepting any new license applications. It is also deleting an existing licensing exemption for client terminals that are being built to operate in the Ka-band to guarantee that all essential satellite equipment is subject to the amended rules. When it grants new NGSO licenses, Ofcom aims to create a timeframe for comments on the license applications as part of the amendments, allowing stakeholders to offer information on how they can cause interference or harm competition.

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