A number of operators have now submitted their proposals to provide pan-European mobile satellite services. The European Commission intends to make available spectrum which could be used to deliver mobile television, radio and other services across Europe. European bidders face competition from American operators. In an extraordinary development, one of them has also started legal proceedings, arguing that the European process for allocating the spectrum is illegal. The complex background to this next revolution in broadcasting and mobile communications is explored in a new report on Satellite to Mobile, published by informitv.

The applicants include Solaris Mobile, a joint venture between Eutelsat and SES Astra. Inmarsat, TerreStar Europe, and ICO Global have also submitted separate plans. The European Commission will therefore consider the proposals and is expected to award the spectrum to one or more operators based on the strength of their applications, according to a number of published criteria.

Under the European S-band Application Process, or ESAP, up to 30MHz of spectrum will be made available for mobile satellite services to cover at least 60% of Europe. The S-band spectrum, in the 2GHz range, will also be available for terrestrial transmissions. It is just above the bands currently used for 3G mobile services, for which operators bid billions of euros at auction.

Solaris Mobile, based in Dublin, was formed as a joint venture between European satellite operators Eutelsat and SES Astra. It plans to provide services using a payload on a satellite already due for launch in the first half of 2009.

“Solaris Mobile will be in the unique position of being able to offer mobile satellite services as early as 2009, empowering state-of-the-art mobile networks and enabling innovative services to consumers across Europe, well ahead of the Commission’s deadline of 2011,” said Steve Maine, the chief executive of the joint venture. “We look forward to continue working with European consumers, regulators, network operators, equipment and solutions vendors, car manufacturers, content and service providers, to make this vision become a reality within the next 12 months.”

Inmarsat, which operates a global mobile satellite services network, best known for its maritime communications, has also filed an application. The company, originally a non-profit international organisation, is now listed on the London Stock Exchange. It has an agreement with Thales Alenia Space to develop a satellite, known as EuropaSat, expected to be launched in early 2011, subject to the outcome of its European application.

TerreStar Networks is planning to launch a large satellite in 2009 to provide coverage across North America in partnership with EchoStar. The company has complex background that goes back to the origins of American mobile satellite services, from which emerged what is now Sirius XM Satellite Radio. TerreStar Europe has submitted plans for a European satellite that could be launched in 2010. It aims to provide multiple communications applications including video, voice and data services.

ICO Global Communications emerged out of the ICO Global initiative to develop a constellation of medium earth orbit mobile communications satellites. Only one of the satellites was launched. However, a major new satellite was launched in April 2008, to provide mobile interactive media services across North America. It has now submitted an application to provide a service in Europe through a European subsidiary, ICO Satellite.

ICO has meanwhile initiated proceedings in the European Court arguing that the decision under which the European Commission proposes to allocate spectrum is illegal. It is calling for the annulment of the decision taken by the European Parliament and Council In June 2008, claiming that it goes against International Telecommunications Union regulations.

The European Commission seems likely to favour European operations and Solaris Mobile currently seems to be a front runner, with the potential to offer satellite services from as early as next year.

The surprise legal move by ICO Global loks like a bid to protect its interests in S-band and could have the effect of delaying any decision by the European Commission. In any case, it now seems unlikely that the allocation process will be uncontested.

A new report on Satellite to Mobile: Television and radio broadcasting — Global markets and opportunities, published by informitv, explores the complex background to the bids by various operators to launch the next generation of satellite communications services.