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ITU over-rules ACMA in satellite spectrum stoush

The International Telecommunications Union has quashed protests from the
Australian Communications and Media Authority and cancelled its filing for
satellite spectrum on behalf of Queensland company Sirion Global, CommsDay can reveal.

The move by the ITU to cancel the filing ends a long-running debate within the organisation's radiocommunications body (ITU-R) that went on for the better part of last year. The ACMA had argued that Sirion Global had satisfied requirements to use the spectrum; however, it had faced objections from regulatory authorities in the UK and Papua New Guinea.

Sirion, a privately-owned company headed up by satellite industry veteran Keith Goetsch, first announced that it had gained the rights to 30MHz of S-band spectrum in 2013. The spectrum had been originally allocated to failed medium-earth orbit satellite venture ICO Global Communications via the UK regulatory authorities. However, the spectrum was cancelled by the ITU in early 2012, paving the way for Sirion, which was next in line for its use.

Satellite spectrum is given to national authorities rather than individual companies, and the ACMA first registered Sirion's filing back in 2004. The spectrum also needs to be “brought into use”, meaning that Sirion had to prove that it had used the spectrum for communications over an existing satellite in orbit.

The ACMA reported to the ITU-R that Sirion had satisfied the bringing into use requirements in February of 2013. It had done so by using the only ICO satellite that had been launched, ICO F2,which is now owned by US company Omnispace.

REGULATORY TWIST: Sirion's success was short-lived, however, with satellite owner Omnispace disputing that it had use of the satellite by leasing capacity – as well as subsequent complaints by the authorities in the UK and PNG. This lead to extensive debate within the ITU's Radio Regulations Board and a number of deferred decisions while legal opinion was sought.

According to the RRB meeting minutes, the UK administration had objected to Australia's request to bring into use the Sirion satellite system because it had been informed by Omnispace that there had been no definitive agreement between the companies. However, it was also noted that the ACMA had at that time sent the relevant information “in good faith” regarding the use of the satellite.

In the final ruling agreed by the regulations board, it was noted that since the administration of the United Kingdom objected to the use of ICO-F2, it would result in Sirion's claims to the filing expiring after seven years from the date of receipt.

“Given that the frequency assignments associated with the SIRION satellite system were not brought into use by 28 February 2013, they cannot be suspended and must be suppressed,” the ruling noted. “Accordingly, the Board was unable to accede to the appeal of the Administration of Australia concerning the decision of the Bureau to cancel the frequency assignments associated with the SIRION satellite system.”

Sirion was unavailable for comment on the issue, but CommsDay understands that the project has other filings that it can fall back on. Its original plans were for a global low cost data service for machine-to-machine communications.

KACOMM SPECTRUM: Meanwhile, Goetsch was also one of the founders of KaComm Communications.

KaComm also has satellite filings that have previously been offered to NBN Co for its Long Term Satellite project, although NBN Co has since gone ahead with its own filings.

KaComm's plans for Ka-band broadband satellite services to remote and regional Australia were left stranded when NBN Co decided to launch its own Ka-band satellites. However, KaComm is still hopeful of utilising the satellite filings associated with the project. Those filings also have to be “brought into use” by October of this year before the ITU's expiration rules come into effect.
Geoff Long, Commsday