Ofcom sets out space strategy

On 10 November 2022, Ofcom set out its space spectrum strategy to aid the ‘huge potential provided by communications services delivered via satellite’ and improve services in rural areas, ships and in the air by expanding NGSO satellite spectrum usage. 

As an immediate action, Ofcom is extending satellite spectrum access to include the 14.25-14.5 GHZ band, doubling available capacity. 

The measures are aligned with Ofcom’s new space spectrum strategy, with activities focusing on three key areas: 

  • Communications 
  • Earth observation and navigation 
  • Understanding and enabling access to space 

Communications 

Work on this activity has involved Ofcom introducing a new NGSO satellite licensing system in the UK. The number of NGSO satellites in orbit has trebled in the last five years, and they offer new services to users in hard-to-reach areas due to their closer proximity to the Earth than GSO satellites.  

Their importance means Ofcom has also placed the development and reform of rules governing the use of spectrum by NGSO systems as the highest priority for their international engagement, as increased deployment will create greater complexity to avoid interference. This will involve working on WRC-23 agenda items: 

  • 1.17, regarding inter-satellite links between GSO and NGSO systems 
  • 1.12, regarding active EESS around 4 MHz  
  • 1.14, reviewing existing EESS (passive) allocations and possible new allocations in the 231.5-252 GHz band. 

Earth observation and navigation 

A key issue identified with NGSO systems is the potential for interference, and so Ofcom has committed to protecting key Earth observation satellites and their UK Earth stations from interference. This will ensure continued use by emergency services, weather monitors and climate monitors remain unimpeded, with Ofcom developing protections for the 14.47-14.50 GHz as part of the decision to give access to the 14.25-14.50 GHz band.   

Ofcom has also cited the creation of a stronger international regulatory framework for the operation of systems that monitor space weather as their other highest international priority, seeking to lead with Germany on WRC-23 agenda item 9.1.a. 

Enabling access to space 

This activity involves supporting companies launching satellites, entities tracking space debris, and those planning missions to the Moon and Mars, with spectrum.  

So far, Ofcom has outlined an intent to provide spectrum for radars to track space debris. Support will also be provided for ‘Cubesat’ projects developed by UK institutions, which tend to use lower frequencies than large satellites, and investigations made into spectrum sharing to promote greater spectrum availability.  

Ofcom has shown intent to engage with WRC-23 agenda item 1.6, relating to an international framework for communications to and from sub-orbital vehicles, and WP7B within the ITU, regarding lunar communications, as part of their international work in this field. 

Future steps 

Ofcom has outlined future consultations on the Q and V spectrum bands. The E band will require international regulatory change to be used, but a consultation on its usage may also be forthcoming. These are part of Ofcom’s stated intent to enable new communication systems to improve services in rural areas, on aircraft and in maritime vessels. 

There will also be consultations on added enforcement options to ensure GSO satellite services remain protected, and to support NGSO for maritime services. 

Ofcom will keep the strategy under review, and techUK will both follow Ofcom’s strategy while facilitating necessary stakeholder engagement. 

The UK Spectrum Policy Forum’s cluster 3-led forum on Spectrum Access Licenses on 22 November will facilitate discussion of shared spectrum. The SPF’s cluster 1 event ‘connectivity from the skies’ and cluster 4 event on WRC agenda items 1.8 and 1.17 in December 2022 will also offer a chance to discuss issues relating to WRC-23 and future connectivity from satellites. 


 

Sophie James

Sophie James

Head of Telecoms and Spectrum Policy, techUK

Manuel R. Marti

Manuel R. Marti

Programme Manager, UK SPF and Satellite, techUK

Julia Ofori-Addo

Julia Ofori-Addo

Programme Assistant, Central Government, Digital Connectivity Forum, Comms Infrastructure, UK SPF, techUK

Archie Breare

Archie Breare

Telecoms Programme Intern, techUK

 

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