It's war. SES and Eutelsat fight over UK frequencies

War has broken out between satellite operators SES and Eutelsat over the future use of frequencies used to transmit digital satellite television and radio to the UK and Ireland from 28 degrees East, reportedly leading to concerns among UK broadcasters. 

The frequencies concerned were inherited from German Telco Deutsche Telekom who used them in the 1990s to transmit to Germany.

Astra operator SES intends to launch services in a 500 MHz block of spectrum currently used by Eutelsat's 28A satellite from October 2013, as it continues to boost its fleet of satellites at 28.2 degrees East.

The frequency grab was announced as a byline in a press release issued by SES on the 1st October 2012, where it stated that it had been granted right of use [of those frequencies] by Media Broadcast pursuant to an agreement entered into in 2005.

This was news to Eutelsat, who obtained the rights to use these frequencies in 1999 from Deutsche Telekom, who originally operated its Kopernikus 2 satellite at the 28.5 degrees East orbital position using frequencies now used for UK TV. Deutsche Telekom reached a similar agreement with rival SES in 2001 with regards the 23.5 degrees East position, which is now occupied with satellite services targeted at The Netherlands, Belgium and Bulgaria.

Eutelsat, according to reports, maintain that the agreement made with Deutsche Telekom did not have an end date and are now seeking arbitration leading to a ruling on the matter. The ruling will clarify if Media Broadcast had the legal ability to grant SES the 'right of use' of the ex-Kopernikus frequencies.

Media Broadcast, with whom SES has an agreement, is a former subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom, now under the ownership of France's TDF Group. Media Broadcast fulfills a similar role to Arqiva in the UK with regards the terrestrial network and providing satellite services to broadcasters in Germany.

Broadcasters meanwhile are "alarmed" at the issue, according to a report at advanced-television.com. A spokesperson for a broadcaster, who wished to remain anonoymous told advanced-television.com "I am not at all sure where this could end up. Most of us are locked into long-term contracts."

Potentially affected channels
Channels and services transmitting in the block of spectrum affected include:
  • Sony Entertainment UK
  • Sky Box Office (some services)
  • Challenge
  • National Geographic (SD)
  • Al Jazeera English
  • the Freesat EPG

Eutelsat currently has two satellites in orbit at 28 degrees East, having recently redeployed a old satellite to join Eutelsat 28A. Its exact purpose is unknown; although bouts of poor signal levels witnessed by various satellite enthusiasts has fuelled rumours that the newly-named Eutelsat 28B is a stand by in case Eutelsat 28A stops working. A satellite back up would also help Eutelsat continue to lay claim on the disputed frequencies in the event of a failure.
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