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Thursday, November 23, 2023

Viasat warns satellite power limit review would hurt GEO innovation

Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), addresses the World Radiocommunication Conference 2023 that got underway Nov. 20 in Dubai. Credit: ITU/D. Woldu

TAMPA, Fla. — A proposal to review satellite transmission power limits risks curtailing investments and innovation in geostationary orbit (GEO) where space companies such as Viasat operate, an executive for the operator warned.

The move to review Equivalent Power Flux Density (EPFD) limits, affecting how powerful non-geostationary (NGSO) satellite signals should be to avoid disrupting GEO spacecraft, is up for debate at the four-week WRC-23 conference that kicked off Nov. 20 in Dubai to update global spectrum rules ↗.

If the proposal is adopted at WRC-23, the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union would study EPFD limits, potentially leading to proposed regulatory changes that would be up for debate at the next conference in 2027.

NGSO players including SpaceX and Amazon argue that updating EPFD rules established over a decade ago would support innovation in orbits outside of GEO.

Amazon also recently formed the Alliance for Satellite Broadband with several think tanks to push for EPFD changes, saying the rules are holding back NGSO innovation ↗.

However, GEO operators counter that the rules have already achieved the right balance between protecting their interests and supporting NGSO newcomers.

“If successful, the attempt by a few to change the rules so they can generate more interference would foreclose innovation by others,” Viasat global chief of government affairs and regulatory officer John Janka told SpaceNews via email, “including deployment of higher throughput satellites and much smaller and lower cost antennas.”

Janka argued that even just considering changing rules would disrupt a stable regulatory regime that has supported growing investment in satellite networks and technologies in recent years.

“The moment you put that regime into question, you undermine the investment environment,” he said. 

According to Janka, putting EPFD rules into question would particularly harm startups to the benefit of megaconstellations, because self-funded companies would be able to invest regardless. 

“For those companies that must go outside their business for funding, the uncertainty created would just result in risk and yet more risk,” he added.

SES, a GEO and NGSO operator, is also a vocal opponent against the WRC-23 proposal to study EPFD rule changes.

But other GEO operators see a middle ground, such as Telesat, a GEO operator with plans to start deploying an NGSO network in 2026.

The rules are worth revisiting in the context of a modern space economy even if nothing changes as a result, Elisabeth Neasmith, Telesat’s senior director for regulatory issues, said during a webinar ↗ SpaceNews recently hosted. 

GEO operator Intelsat, which is plotting an NGSO constellation in 2027 ↗, also believes the time is right for another look at EPFD rules.

“Our position is different from our colleagues on the NGSO side [whose] aim is only to relax these rules,” Intelsat vice president of spectrum strategy Hazem Moakkit said via email.

“Our view is to review the rules to ensure that they are in line with the current and future state of the technology and to close possible loopholes. We believe that it is important for our industry to remain open and dynamic.”

The WRC-23 proposal could be dropped as soon as this week if there is not enough consensus, enabling conference delegates to focus on more achievable items elsewhere on the agenda for updating other spectrum rules — otherwise, negotiations around EPFD could continue for much of the four-week event. 


Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information…
More by Jason Rainbow


Kaylie Pferten
Kaylie Pferten
A pilot of submersible crafts in a former life, now married to my husband David and writing about investment advice.

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