The fortunes of the Solaris Mobile project – the JV between satellite operators Astra and Eutelsat which seeks to create a market for mobile satellite services across Europe – received a boost today with an announcement from UK regulator Ofcom that it planned to write to the ITU to recommend cancellation of rival operator ICO’s previous assignments in the S-Band.
In a short statement, the regulator said:
“Following a review of the status of the deployment of the ICO-P mobile satellite system conducted over a three year period involving extensive consultation with ICO Global Communications (ICO), and having carefully considered the representations made by ICO, Ofcom has taken a decision that it will write to the ITU on 17 March to instruct that the ICO-P assignments currently recorded in the ITU Master Register be cancelled.”
Ofcom is responsible for ICO’s spectrum assignments because it is the ITU representative for the Cayman Islands, the offshore tax haven which ICO cites as its base for tax purposes.
Solaris Mobile has been confirmed as an ‘admissible candidate’ by the EC for the S-Band (2GHz) beauty contest, along with ICO Satellite Limited, Inmarsat Ventures Limited, and TerreStar Europe Limited.
The Eutelsat W2A satellite which Solaris plans to use was due to become operational in February 2009, enabling it to claim that it was the only one of the four able to meet “European Commission expectations that cross border Mobile TV services are likely to start in 2009.”
However, Eutelsat recently announced that W2A would be delayed, launching on 28th March.
ICO had previously laid claims to part of the S-Band for its own DVB-SH venture, on the basis of the past award of the frequencies to the company by the ITU. Indeed, in a recent SEC filing, ICO said that it had initiated proceedings in the European Court of First Instance seeking the annulment of the European Parliament decision that had engendered the EC S-Band contest, contending that the decision was illegal and should be annulled because of its own prior claim.
If the ITU now agrees with the Ofcom recommendation, and cancels the ICO registration, those proceedings would now presumably fall, and ICO would have to win the EC beauty contest on its own merits.
As ConnectedTV has previously commented, Solaris Mobile is a firm favourite for the S-Band award, and the Ofcom decision has now served to strengthen that position.
Overnight, ICO has responded furiously to the Ofcom move, saying that it takes “strong exception” to the Ofcom statement, pointing out that ICO F2, the first orbiting satellite in the MEO constellation, was launched in June, 2001 and continues to provide services in the S-Band. ICO goes on to say that its ITU S-Band registrations were the result of “having spent more than a decade and billions of dollars constructing an international satellite system, as well as its continued efforts to further enhance its satellite system.”
ICO added that it had “recently prevailed in a significant legal action against the Boeing companies regarding the fraudulent activity, breach of contract and tortious interference which caused the delays related to the deployment of the remainder of the system. ICO is continuing to defend its international legal rights, including through participation in international regulatory organizations and litigation.”
In other words, the satellite operator is not about to drop its case before the European Court of First Instance, even if Ofcom has just holed it below the water-line.