Faster broadband coming to planes, trains and ships as UK eyes spectrum changes

Summary:New vehicle-mounted earth stations could pave the way for higher capacity satellite broadband in planes, trains and ships.

The UK is looking to open up spectrum currently used by satellite Earth stations for vehicle-mounted stations that could boost broadband capacity in aircraft, ships and trains.

The UK's communications regulator Ofcom is hoping to spur innovation in mobile broadband services by making it easier for satellite operators to use 'Earth stations on mobile platforms' (ESOMPs) to deliver passenger broadband.

Ofcom has proposed (PDF) three frequency bands that operators could apply for to support mobile Earth stations mounted on aircraft, ships or other land-based vehicles.

While alternative technologies are already used to provide wi-fi on board in transport, the regulator believes the spectrum could be used to provide links with higher capacity and spur a new market for mobile communications.

Several satellite operators are planning to launch commercial satellite networks in 2013 and 2014 that support the use of mobile earth stations transmitting in the 27.5GHz to 30GHz range, according to Ofcom.

Ofcom also points out that recent advances in stabilised antenna technology make it possible for earth station antennas to track a satellite in orbit even when it's mounted on a fast moving platform.

While there was a risk the mobile Earth stations could cause interference to other fixed site satellite networks, Ofcom considered that risk "very low". With the appropriate controls, the mobile stations would cause no more interference than fixed-site earth stations, it said.

It also notes that the aircraft and ship-mounted Earth stations can already operate in international airspace and waters, but that parts of these frequency ranges are used by terrestrial radio systems in some countries. That's why Ofcom was proposing frequency ranges that are already authorised for satellite Earth station applications, such as the permanent Earth stations and high density fixed-satellite services.

Key proposals Ofcom is seeking feedback on under a public consultation are:

  • Radio equipment for land-based ESOMPs should be exempted from the need to have a Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 licence
  • Radio equipment for aircraft and ship mounted ESOMPs should be licensed under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 rather than licence-exempt
  • Licensing of aircraft-mounted ESOMPs should be done through variation of the aircraft radio licence issued on Ofcom's behalf by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) with no additional fee
  • Licensing of ship-mounted ESOMPs should be done through variation of the ship radio licence with no additional fee.

The deadline for stakeholders to respond to the proposal is 10 October 2013 and Ofcom expects to release a statement on the consultation in December.

Topics: Broadband, United Kingdom, Wi-Fi

About

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, s... Full Bio

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