Inmarsat wins satellite spat

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Eutelsat and Viasat have lost a legal decision at the EU’s Court of Justice over a claim that London-based Inmarsat should not have been granted authorisation to key S-band satellite frequencies for in-flight connectivity over France in particular.

French frequency regulator ARCEP (Autorité de régulation des communications électroniques et des Postes) had authorised Inmarsat’s important European Aviation Network (created with Deutsche Telekom) which comprised satellite frequencies and corresponding ground-based connectivity back in 2018.

This decision was challenged by Eutelsat and Viasat and the basis of their claim was that Inmarsat was using satellite spectrum but the ground component was closer to that of conventional cellular network distribution.

April 15th saw a decision from the Court of Justice which ruled that such mobile satellite service (MSS) transmissions do not have to be – in themselves – wholly based on the satellite element of the overall system.

“The relevant provisions of the MSS decision do not define, in terms of capacity of transmitted data, the relationship between the satellite component of a mobile satellite system, on the one hand, and the ground component of that system, on the other,” the court determined.

Inmarsat, in its statement, welcomed the decision, saying: “Inmarsat welcomes the ruling of the European Court of Justice rejecting our competitors’ arguments aimed at limiting the operation of the European Aviation Network,” Inmarsat general counsel Brad Swann said. “EAN is an asset for Europe as a whole and it is proving very popular with passengers and airlines. Inmarsat looks forward to continuing to provide the rapidly growing number of EAN users with a world-leading in-flight connectivity experience.”

The ruling also means that additional airlines might well now install Inmarsat’s EAN kit, knowing that it is now ‘legal’. British Airways, Vueling and Iberia are already using the EAN/S-band equipment.

However, Viasat said that would continue to challenge the ARCEP core decision and the court’s ruling. Moreover, this particular ruling applies only to the French permissions. There are other cases pending in Belgium, Italy, Germany and Spain.


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