Government to consult on widening licence conditions on satellite spectrum to help outlying areas

Ottawa wants to hear from the telecom industry on its plans to widen the licencing for spectrum in the 2 GHz band to give more capacity for satellite-delivered mobile broadband to rural areas.

“Recent changes in the United States with respect to the band plan and operational requirements for the use of the 2 GHz band for MSS have removed regulatory barriers and increased flexibility for terrestrial mobile broadband services in the band,” Industry Canada said in a consultation paper issued this week. “These decisions will likely have a bearing on the equipment ecosystem and therefore on the provision of services in Canada.”

Changing the licencing will help the department meet its target of allocating a total of 750 MHz of spectrum for mobile wireless services by 2017.

Interested parties have to June 23 to make submissions. Reply comments can be filed until July 8.

The rollout of services using this spectrum will improve mobile services network coverage in virtually all rural and remote areas of Canada, the government said in a statement, which supports its goals of greater competition and provides more choice for wireless consumers.

The statement said it will also benefit commercial users, such as those in the resource sector, that work in isolated areas.

“Spectrum is a critical public resource, and it is our job as a government to ensure it is allocated in a way that encourages robust competition and choice in our wireless market, Industry Minister James Moore said in the statement. “Canadian consumers have been clear that they want more choice, lower prices and better service. This consultation will allow Canadians to have a say on how to improve mobile services in rural and remote communities.”

The so-called AWS-4 spectrum in the 2 GHz band is currently licensed to provide mobile services using two satellites in orbit as well as terrestrial towers, the department said in a briefing note. One of the satellites already launched for this band has unique rural coverage capability, providing both voice and data services to smart phones in virtually all of Canada.

Both satellites, EchoStar G1 and EchoStar T1 are owned by DISH Network Inc. Gamma Acquisition Canada ULC (Gamma Canada), is a subsidiary of DISH, is the satellite operator for EchoStar T1 and holds a licence to provide mobile satellite service here in the band 2000-2010 MHz paired with 2190-2200 MHz. TerreStar Solutions Inc. (TerreStar Solutions) also holds a licence as mobile satellite provider in the same frequency band, using the EchoStar T1 satellite through a commercial agreement with Gamma Canada. TerreStar Solutions also has a special authorization to operate what is called ATC (ancillary terrestrial component) in the band, which allows the deployment of land operations in order to complement the satellite component.

Industry Canada is proposing that the licensees for this spectrum should be required to provide satellite services that will benefit rural Canadians, but also have the flexibility to offer services using a land-based network. This would enable them to compete with other commercial mobile providers and offer Canadians the benefits of more choice.

This spectrum would continue to be licensed to Gamma Acquisition Canada and TerreStar Solutions Inc. “They are licensees in good standing and have made significant investments to launch a satellite that can be used to provide these services,” the government says. These licences should be generally aligned with those issued in the U.S. to promote the availability of reasonably priced smart phones in the Canadian market.

Strict rollout obligations—for example, a requirement to serve 30 per cent of Canada’s population within five years—should be included in the conditions of licence to promote this spectrum being put to use quickly for the benefit of Canadians, the proposal says.

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