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SES rescues 5G satellite constellation

May 12, 2022

Back on March 17th, it was reported that the Luxembourg government had mislaid an application from Luxembourg Space Telecommunications (LST) to create a 62-satellite constellation (Cleosat) of low Earth orbiting satellites. The initial request was made back in 2015 but sometime subsequently LST corporately vanished into thin air.

SES Astra has stepped into the breach barely 48 hours before the permission was due to be forfeited by the ITU and made a LEO filing covering the Cleosat constellation.

The problem for the Luxembourg government might have been down to a change of internal staff at its small regulatory division, or a misfiling or simply forgetfulness. It happens to the best of us!

But the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has an elephant-like memory at its Radiocommunications Board, and its clock was ticking because of its mandatory ‘bringing into use’ regulations for Cleosat. The ITU has a firm 7-year requirement to bring into use a system with at least one satellite and that period expires on May 12.

Luxembourg’s Space Agency in March asked the ITU for a delay of a year in its ‘bringing into use’ obligations for the constellation which would have given it time to find someone to adopt the Cleosat scheme. The ITU said “no”.

SES Astra has stepped into the problem, apparently solving the timetable, and has told the ITU that it has “brought into use” the Cleosat frequencies.

The frequencies, and their potential to make a dramatic impact, are key and best described as being 5G compatible. There is, for example, much discussion as to whether Apple’s upcoming iPhone 14 could have direct wireless connectivity with satellite (perhaps for emergency usage) and Apple is widely reported to be hiring staff for a move into 5G/satellite.

Apple is far from alone. While the frequencies allocated to Cleosat might not exactly match it is clear that OneWeb, SpaceX/Starlink, LeoSat, Amazon Kuiper and others are all seeking satellite-based low Earth orbit connectivity.

“SES applied for this [LEO] filing through the Luxembourg government because it recognises the potential of direct-to-handheld 5G satellite connectivity in the years to come. We haven’t made any decision to significantly invest in this technology at this stage, and will in the coming months do our due diligence of assessing the market and business plans,” stated a SES spokeswoman.

The Cleosat scheme calls for 62 satellites working in eight orbital planes at heights of 519kms, 850kms and 8062 kms. Coincidentally, SES operates the O3b fleet at a height of 8063 kms although in orbits around the Equator and orbiting five times per day and very different from the Cleosat plan. O3b uses Ka-band frequencies of 17.8-18.6 GHz and 18.8-19.3 GHz for downlinks and telemetry; and 27.6-28.4 GHz and 28.6-29.1 GHz for uplinks and command frequencies.

Nokia, in a recent Insight note, stated: “For years, satellite communication has remained standalone technology, independent of mobile networking. Now with the next generation of satellites – built from 5G architecture – they will integrate with networks to manage connectivity to cars, vessels, airplanes and other IoT devices in remote and rural areas. In the near future, 5G signals will beam down from space and support our ‘terrestrial’ 5G infrastructure on Earth. The end result is a new space race for satellites – promising to offer customers a seamless wireless experience across the entire globe.”

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