Spectrum Management: Paper Satellites

VoicenData Bureau
New Update

Since the beginning of the age of satellite communications, with the

Extraordinary World Administrative Conference in 1959 when the ITU first

allocated frequencies for space telecom services, there has been a continuing

quest for more and more spectrum. Today, the backlog of satellites awaiting

coordination stands at 1,200, with ITU receiving 400—500 requests for new

systems every year. According to ITU, the worldwide demand for satellite-based

services has grown steadily over the past 15 years. This has been a boon for

service providers and consumers alike, but it has resulted in a densely packed

orbital space neighborhood and a scramble for desirable orbital slots. One of

the causes for increased demand is that high-tech satellites are being used not

only to support  national and international telephone operators, but also

to broadcast radio and television networks.


The body believes that the new services, such as third generation mobile

telephony and broadband access systems are also increasing the global demand for

satellite orbits and frequencies. Likewise, developing countries are also

turning to satellite-based communication to cost-effectively overcome the

challenges of digital divide.


order to meet the rising demand for orbit space, ITU has taken almost each and

every possible step to provide more spectrum, including expansion of allocated

bands, allocation of new and higher frequencies, frequency re-use, closer

spacing of satellites in geo-synchronous orbit, etc. Nevertheless, these

techniques have failed to satisfy the increasing demand for more and more space

services of a broadband nature.

The shortage of available frequencies and orbital slots has given rise to

filings with the ITU of the so-called ‘paper satellites’. These are filings

which appear to lay claim to a particular band of spectrum and orbital slots by

parties who are anticipating filings from others for the same bands and slots,

in the hope that they can obtain compensation for their early filings. This has

led to an over-filing of demand for satellite spectrum.


This problem of over-filing also makes the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau’s

coordination work difficult, as ‘paper satellites’ block access to spectrum

and orbital resources.

In an attempt to solve the problem, two proposals were tabled at World Radio

Conference 97. First, an administrative due diligence procedure, and second, a

financial due diligence procedure. After a prolonged debate, it was decided that

a financial deposit that is sufficiently important to be a deterrent to

frivolous filings but not so high as to be a deterrent to the development of ‘real’

networks is a must. A deposit of about 1 percent of the cost of building and

launching a satellite into service was considered to be an adequate balance.

This proposal, however, sparked another debate that whether ITU was entitled to

impose any financial fee on a natural resource. The proponents of financial

diligence procedure have stressed that one of the consequences of the current

situation, for administrations and satellite operators, is the very large number

of satellite networks that are identified as potentially affected when new

notices for real systems are submitted. This, they argue, would force the

network operators to either attempt to coordinate with the many ‘paper

satellite networks’ with substantial costs, or make risky assessments as to

which networks are likely to be ‘real’ and those that are likely to remain


Four years ago, at the Plenipotentiary Conference, a top policy-making body

of the ITU, a sliding scale fee was implemented. While the fee and the other

efficiencies implemented by ITU have gone some way to discourage casual filing,

over-filing of ‘paper satellites’ still remains an issue.


In recognition of the urgent need to clear a backlog that continues to

seriously hamper operator’s business plans and users’ access to new

services, ITU Council 2001 established the Satellite Backlog Action Group. The

recommendations of this group will form the basis of much of the discussion at

Marrakesh, and include proposals for revising the processing fee schedule.

With the Union under increasing pressure, many delegates at Marrakesh are

expected to support a substantial increase to the current fee, which remains

extremely low in relation to total system costs. This would not only act as a

strong and an effective disincentive to future spurious filings, but would help

boost available resources for additional trained personnel, new and improved

software systems and better administrative support.

The challenge for ITU is that as no two radio systems including satellite

responders, can operate on exactly the same frequency and in the same orbital

position without causing harmful interference to one another, global

coordination of radio frequency applications is essential.

Nishu Rastogi