Commission starts selection procedure for operators of pan-European mobile satellite services

Thursday, August 7th, 2008
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A competition for providers of communication services via satellite across Europe has been launched today by the European Commission. Satellite operators will for the first time be able to offer services such as high speed data, mobile TV, disaster relief and remote medical services under a single European selection procedure instead of under 27 different national systems. This is made possible by a new EU decision on mobile satellite services that entered into force this July. Mobile satellite systems use radio spectrum to provide services between a mobile earth station and one or more stations either in space or on the ground at fixed locations. They have the capability to cover a large territory and reach areas where such services were economically unviable before. The new European selection procedure could allow companies to offer innovative wireless services throughout Europe over a specifically reserved spectrum as of 2009.

“Mobile satellite services have the tremendous advantage of being able to cover most of the EU’s territory thereby reaching millions of EU citizens across borders. They represent an unprecedented opportunity for all Europeans to access new communication services, and this not only in metropolitan areas, but also in rural and less populated regions,” said EU Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding. “However, these satellite services depend on substantial investment and therefore need simple and swift procedures as well as long-term legal certainty. This is why the Commission, in close cooperation with the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, set up, in a record time of only ten months, a single EU procedure for selecting interested operators of mobile satellite services. There is now one market, not 27 in Europe for mobile satellite services. Henceforth, the ball is in the camp of the industry. I expect intense competition among operators offering satellite-based communication services reaching consumers from the North of Sweden to the South of Spain. This could pave the way for first satellite launches already in the course of 2009.”

The satellite industry is a €77 billion market worldwide, growing at 16% in 2007. Of this, satellite services alone generated approximately €38 billion in global revenue. European companies represent an important force on this market: the European space industry holds 40% of world markets for manufacturing, launching, and operating satellites. Furthermore, Europe is home to three of the five largest satellite system operators in the world.

The competition among satellite operators launched today by the European Commission is a first, as it takes place under a single European selection procedure. Until now, in spite of the clear cross-border dimension of satellite services, existing national rules obstructed the creation of a single market for mobile satellite services by leaving the selection of operators to each Member State. The result was a divergence in national approaches that created a patchwork of procedures, legal uncertainty and a substantial competitive disadvantage for the satellite industry in Europe.

To remove these obstacles, the Commission proposed on 22 August 2007, on the basis of its single market competences, a new EU decision under which a single selection procedure for mobile satellite services can be organised at European level (IP/07/1243). This decision was adopted by the European Parliament and the Council and entered into force on 5 July 2008. It establishes common EU rules for the use of the 2 Ghz bands by mobile satellite services. This will not only simplify and speed up licensing procedures for operators – encouraging investment and the roll out of mobile satellite services – but at the same time make sure that these services cover at least 60% of the EU’s territory – an important step towards gradually achieving coverage of all EU Member States.

Interested companies have until 7 October 2008 to present their applications to the European Commission. During the first phase of the selection process, technical and commercial ability of the candidates to launch their systems in time will be assessed. The criteria in the second selection phase include, among other things: the speed at which all Member States will be covered; the range of services, including in rural areas, and the number of end-users to be served and the capacity of the system to fulfil public policy objectives and spectrum efficiency. All Member States must ensure that selected candidates have the right to operate in their country. Depending on the number of candidates, the Commission expects that the selection procedure can be completed in the first part of 2009. First satellite launches could take place in 2009.

Indicative time line for the launch of mobile satellite services in Europe:

Q3 2008          Call for applications 
Q4 2008          Deadline for submitting an application  
Q1-2: 2009       assessment of applications 
Q2-3: 2009       Authorisation at national level 
From 2009/2010   First satellite launches and services

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