Ofcom opens spectrum for satellite broadband

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Ofcom has announced more spectrum for satellite services including Starlink and Telesat that could boost internet coverage for people living in rural areas as well as planes and ships.

Operators can now access more airwaves in order to provide a wider range of broadband services, including the previously unavailable 14.25-14.5 GHz band, which doubles capacity available for a range of services to transmit data to satellites.

Non-geostationary orbit (NGSO) satellite systems orbit the Earth, tracked by satellite dishes as they move, and can deliver high-speed and responsive internet access.

A gateway Earth station (connected to the internet) tracks a non-geostationary orbit satellite as it moves across the sky. The satellite relays data to a user terminal – such as a dish fixed to the side of a house – which in turn is connected to a router.

Elon Musk’s Starlink is currently being used to provide connectivity in Ukraine, a country that has faced significant damage to its infrastructure. It was also confirmed in August that Royal Caribbean Group – the world’s second-largest cruise line operator – would use it to provide internet services to customers on its ships.

Starlink is being granted licences for six NGSO ‘gateway Earth stations’ that will boost its ability to provide broadband services to homes and businesses.

Ofcom said it had also approved an application from Telesat for an Earth Station Network Licence for its Lightspeed constellation, meaning it will be able to offer satellite connectivity to people and businesses in the UK for the first time.

The regulator’s space strategy also includes protections for Earth observation satellites, which are collecting data on weather and climate change.

“You can’t see or feel radio spectrum, but all our wireless communication depends on it. Incredible new services are being developed, meaning demand for spectrum is growing,” said David Willis, spectrum group director at Ofcom.

“This is particularly true in space, where satellite technology offers faster and more reliable internet services for those living in remote areas, as well as planes and ships. Today is one small step in our work to make sure everyone can benefit from these giant leaps in innovation.”

A survey from consumer body Which? recently found that UK households eligible to sign up to social broadband tariffs are being put off over concerns that the speeds will be too slow.

Social tariffs are special discounted deals available for certain low-income customers – typically those in receipt of benefits such as Universal Credit. However, according to Ofcom, only 136,000 (3.2 per cent) out of the 4.2 million households receiving Universal Credit are on a social tariff.

In a survey of more than 2,000 people eligible for the tariffs, 39 per cent said they would not take part for various reasons the most common of which was fears that the social tariff speeds offered were too slow.

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