It is now widely expected that the European Commission will support local interests in mobile satellite services and approve proposals by Solaris Mobile and Inmarsat to provide pan-European coverage, including mobile television. According to a new report, the number of subscribers to broadcast mobile television services worldwide could rise from around 40 million today to 140 million within a couple of years.

Solaris Mobile, a joint venture between SES Astra and Eutelsat, and a separate proposal from Inmarsat could both end up as recipients of a slice of S-band satellite spectrum.

The European Commission has been considering proposals from four prospective operators, including American companies ICO Global and TerreStar. It has already announced that it will make available spectrum in the S-band, close to the frequencies used for 3G mobile phones, to enable pan-European services, including mobile television.

That has apparently upset the International Telecommunication Union, which is responsible among other matters for the global coordination of satellite spectrum. It is concerned that it could provide a precedent enabling other regions to allow services without worldwide coordination.

ICO Global also believes that it already has a prior claim to spectrum in the United Kingdom. The national communications regulator Ofcom has said it will no longer recognise previous frequency assignments to ICO Global. It proposes to write to the ITU to instruct that they are cancelled, although it now awaiting a possible request from ICO Global for a judicial review.

An S-band transponder is meanwhile poised for launch on a Eutelsat W2A spacecraft at the end of March, ready to deliver services for Solaris Mobile. The satellite plans to offer six intersecting footprints across Europe, covering the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Italy, Germany and Poland.

As well as operators in Europe and America, consortia such as China Satellite Broadcasting Corporation and Dubai based Satellite2mobile are planning to launch next-generation hybrid satellite and terrestrial mobile services.

Mobile television services have so far been rather disappointing, but the prospects for growth are considerable.

Some 40 million users worldwide watch broadcast mobile television services, most of them in Japan and South Korea. However, the number of subscribers could increase to 140 million by 2011, according to a recent report from management consultancy Arthur D Little.