Industry Insights

Satellite Companies Prepare for 5G Spectrum Adoption

2019-11-29  |  5 min read 

Take a peek into satellite market forecasts and you’ll see the same figure cited by multiple sources: $300 billion, set to double in five years. Some forecasts cite even higher amounts, but the previous prediction seems to have achieved the widest agreement. This tremendous growth reflects increased satellite deployments for new and evolving applications like Earth observation, communications, the Internet of Space (IoS), and of course, space travel and exploration. Lower Earth orbit (LEO) and medium Earth orbit (MEO) satellites promise to enable many of these applications. The future for satellites appears to be on an unstoppable upward trajectory except, in the U.S., for one hurdle: the need to clear C-band spectrum to make way for fifth-generation (5G) communications.

Because the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had no unused mid-band spectrum to support 5G deployment, it identified the C-band as a way to fill the spectrum gap. Most recently, the FCC announced plans to open 280 MHz of mid-band spectrum (around 4 MHz). Cable operators will move to a smaller spectrum area of roughly 200 MHz. This decision reportedly has been received positively by broadcasters and cable operators. Incumbent programming services will stay in place, as spectrum will be reserved for them in the plan.

However, the satellite companies that deliver that content have not responded as favorably. All 500 MHz of this spectrum is licensed and used by four satellite operators. The C-Band Alliance (CBA), which comprises those satellite operators, represents all C-band services currently provided in the continental U.S. The CBA put forth its own proposal, which favored a private sale in the form of a market-based auction. Benefits for the satellite companies included the ability to use funding to launch satellites and compensate for the inability to sell services in that band.

Satellite operators also promised to cover the costs to clear spectrum and “implement safe and interference free satellite operations in the upper 300 MHz of the band.” According to the CBA plan, the satellite operators would design, source, and install radio frequency filters on every C-band antenna in the US to protect current users from interference when 5G operations begin in the neighboring spectrum.

Ultimately, however, the U.S. Congress did not agree with the CBA plan, wanting to use the money from the spectrum sale to fund projects such as rural broadband and emergency communications. The FCC also opted not to go with the CBA proposal. The satellite operators are promised compensation for making their C-band spectrum available to auction. Yet the CBA has made its disappointment known regarding various issues, including the need to involve the satellite operators in plans to reconfigure and transition their networks. At this point, however, the FCC has not specified any details or even the timing of the auction.

Final modifications obviously will be made, including plans to minimize interference risks. As spectrum is cleared and auctioned, the risk of interference rises – especially with so much activity in adjacent bands. The FCC has announced plans to create a 20-MHz guard band to protect against interference. Yet wireless devices and the people implementing them do not always obey the rules. Spectrum monitoring and signal analysis solutions like those offered by Keysight can help support the transition of satellite operators out of the C-band – as well as the rollout of 5G.

Click here to find out how Keysight’s spectrum monitoring and signal analysis solutions can help you determine the presence of interferers and then identify and locate them.