Speech from Mr Houlin Zhao, ITU Deputy Secretary-General
CASBAA Satellite Industry Forum 2009
15 June 2009

Distinguished colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

As members of an industry organization that serves some three billion people across the region, I hardly need convince you of the unique and vital role satellites play in the delivery of ICT services.

Encouragingly, despite the global recession, the satellite business in Asia remains in very good shape. Transponder fill rates are generally high, and operators are enjoying solid revenues from transponder leasing, thanks largely to strong demand for Direct-to-Home television and increasingly pressing broadband application requirements.

Asia’s phenomenal economic growth and seemingly insatiable appetite for advanced ICT services is also helping the region weather the crisis, with investors favouring the high-growth-potential markets of Asia over more saturated markets in the Americas and Europe.

And while broadcasting services still account for the lion’s share of satellite capacity, new services and applications are emerging. Mobile communications are already becoming an important new business driver for the Asian satellite industry, with satellites providing important backhaul capacity for mobile operators, as well as helping bring access to hard-to-service areas, where difficult terrain or sparse population density rule out more conventional solutions.

At the same time, VSAT networks are beginning to gain ground as a low-cost solution for both urban and rural environments, providing high-speed data services for corporate networks, rural internet access and other key services like distance learning and telemedicine. Internet trunking services and the fledgling mobile TV market, which looks set to boom in Asia as handset availability, service provider networks and local content ramp up, will also contribute to strong ongoing demand for satellite capacity.

In short, satellites have emerged as one of the key enablers of economic and social development across the world’s most dynamic and populous region, where vast distances, geographical challenges, the high-speed demands of new technologies, and increasing pressure to realize economies of scale make satellites the obvious, and often only, choice.

All this is good news for CASBAA members, and good news for ITU, too, since a thriving satellite industry and the increasing deployment of satellite-based services helps us fulfil our mandate of connecting the world’s people.

But while growth is always good, it is not without its challenges.

I think we all understand the need to ensure that, in the rush to meet strong market demand, we do not compromise the services – and the very considerable investments – we’ve already committed to.

Ladies and gentlemen,

ITU is the sole global agency charged with managing the world’s satellite orbital resources. This is a task we undertake with great care, in the knowledge that accurate, efficient and impartial coordination of satellite positions is critical to the health and development of the industry.

Many of you are aware that it is becoming increasingly difficult for government administrations to obtain suitable new GSO positions and frequencies in both the planned and non-planned satellite services, and to fully coordinate them in accordance with the provisions specified in the Radio Regulations.

Space is getting very crowded: 30 years ago, we talked of six degrees of separation between satellites for interference-free operation. Today, in the geostationary orbit, we’re currently down to as little as 0.5 degrees of separation for the same purposes.

As a consequence, it is getting much harder to ensure the exclusion of unwanted signals from a neighbouring system – a very serious risk to both service delivery and the multi-million dollar investment that each and every satellite deployment represents.

It is no exaggeration to say that efficient use of spectrum and orbital resources is one of the most crucial challenges facing the international community in its efforts to promote ICT development and achieve the connectivity access targets set by the Word Summit on the Information Society.

In the area of coordination, ITU is now receiving filings for satellite networks with characteristics far beyond what may be considered reasonable for normal operation and service delivery – even allowing for a good degree of flexibility with regard to future use.

For example, the proposed service area is restricted to the territory of one or several administrations for coordination requests that include steerable beams. But the area over which these beams can be steered is now being defined in filings as ‘worldwide’.

Moreover, some antenna gain contours submitted in coordination or notification notices contain high gain areas outside the service area. This can lead to almost absurd coordination requirements. One example: the coordination requirement for a satellite network requested in mid-2007 involved 40 administrations and 600 networks.
At the same time, ITU is witnessing an increase in complaints of harmful interference. Independent information on the real use of the world’s spectrum and orbit resource often shows considerable divergence from information submitted to ITU by administrations.

This means that, despite concerted efforts by ITU over recent years, ‘paper satellite’ issues – that is, fictitious frequency assignments recorded in the Master International Frequency Register – still persist.

In addition, there have also been some recent reported problems between satellite systems and new WiMAX deployments operating in the 3.5GHz band.

Distinguished colleagues,

To tackle these problems, last month ITU’s Radiocommunication Bureau issued an official Circular Letter requesting that all administrations review their recorded satellite networks and remove unused frequency assignments and networks from the Master Register. I cannot emphasize too strongly that this process serves the best interests of all administrations, operators, and the industry as a whole.

In the spirit of cooperation and consensus that lies the very heart of ITU’s mandate and mission, last month we also held a special workshop at our headquarters in Geneva on the efficient use of spectrum and orbital resources. This workshop was attended by top-level representatives from across industry and government, who shared presentations on key concerns, engaged in constructive and productive debate, and proposed a number of practical steps that could help resolve current problems.

A steady move to state-of-the art technology, for example, is one very effective way of improving spectrum efficiency. Work in areas like satellite solar panel technology, adaptive modulation and coding, digital compression, improved earth station spatial selectivity, adaptive-array earth station antennas, and multi-carrier based transmission techniques allows for higher transmission rates with less spectrum and reduced interference.

At the same time, simplifying satellite operating parameters could help resolve the problem of perceived GSO scarcity in some parts of the orbit, where potential GSO capacity may be substantially greater than what is really required.

In the area of steerable beams, recognition that the vast majority of satellites with steerable beams will serve a small coverage area, with only a very slim chance of repositioning, could avoid the need to record large reposition areas – a practice that may currently be hindering the entry of new satellite systems and while encouraging warehousing of the spectrum and orbit resource.

ITU could also consider introducing a regulatory procedure that discourages inaccurate claims of beam coverage. In doing so, we would naturally seek to strike a balance between the long-term rights and need for flexibility of satellite operators, and the need to manage finite spectrum and orbit resources more efficiently for the benefit of the global community as a whole.

Finally, greater use of the non-geostationary satellite orbit, particularly the highly elliptical orbit, could provide another solution for some operators.

I was greatly encouraged by the evident commitment and cooperative spirit exhibited by all workshop participants, many of whom represented competing commercial interests. These leaders and technical experts recognized the importance of laying their rivalry to one side and working together under the auspices of ITU to find solutions to problems that affect us all.

Likewise, in the area of WiMAX, let me state first and foremost that ITU supports and promotes all means of extending ICT access to underserved areas. Satellite and WiMAX both play an important and complementary role in achieving that goal.

That said, we recognize that there is potential for interference between any radio services when they are deployed on an uncoordinated basis. Some such cases are beginning to arise with frequencies used by WiMAX and FSS networks operating at around 3.5 GHz, in both overlapping and non-overlapping bands.

In 2007, the World Radiocommunication Conference took the important step of imposing stringent requirements for the protection of existing and future satellite services in the C-band. In addition, ITU-R Study Groups 4 and 5 are currently actively examining technical issues relating to potential interference, with a view to a quick and effective resolution adapted to the needs of all ITU members.

Ladies and gentlemen,br />
There can be no doubt that efficient and equitable use of spectrum and orbit resources requires a coordinated and transparent international approach. Since the birth of the very first commercial satellite systems in the 1960s, ITU has been serving as the industry’s faithful partner, performing the vital technical coordination and oversight functions essential to the ongoing growth of the industry.

But effective management of these resources also requires the goodwill and cooperation of industry and governments. For satellite communications to continue to flourish, we must all play by the rules.

A decision to ‘go it alone’ not only risks millions of investment dollars, it puts others’ investments at risk. Just as we would all wish to be protected by international frameworks and regulations, so we must respect such frameworks and regulations ourselves.

I thus urge industry and governments alike to work more closely with ITU to help resolve the current issues of overcrowding, increasingly lengthy delays imposed by unwieldy coordination requirements, and the chronic problem of paper satellites.

A concerted effort on all our parts will open up plenty of new windows of opportunity, while ensuring fair access to the shared global resources to which we are all heir.

Thank you.