Satellite operators will be able to use terrestrial transmissions to complement mobile satellite services in the United Kingdom but will be charged for the spectrum. Earlier this year the European Union gifted Inmarsat and Solaris Mobile satellite spectrum to deliver services across Europe, including mobile television. Ofcom, the communications regulator in the United Kingdom, proposes to charge them for using the same frequencies on the ground.

The European Commission awarded the two operators 60MHz of paired spectrum for mobile satellite systems in the 2GHz band. This is close to the frequencies used for 3G mobile phones, for which operators across Europe bid billions of euros.

The commission recommended that regulators make the same spectrum available to the operators for ground based services. This is known in Europe as the Complimentary Ground Component or CGC, referred to elsewhere as the Ancillary Terrestrial Communications or ATC. It can be used to enhance coverage in urban areas or to extend indoor reception.

The two operators argued that as the frequencies can only be used on the ground as an integral part of the satellite service, they should effectively be given away for nothing.

Ofcom has taken the view that the value of the spectrum is comparable to the 1800MHz spectrum licensed to mobile phone operators, and proposes to charge the operators over half a million pounds a year for each pair of 1 MHz frequencies that they use. The regulator proposes to maintain that fee for five years, although it is prepared to review it downwards if there is evidence that the charge is preventing it being used.

Significantly, the operators will not be required to use the spectrum on the ground for the same service or application as the satellite service.

That could be relevant, as Inmarsat does not yet have a suitable satellite, and while the Solaris Mobile joint venture between Astra and Eutelsat recently launched a satellite payload, it does not appear to be working to specification and is subject to an insurance claim.