SES v Eutelsat: Why are satellite services moving around?

Q: Why are so many satellite channels having to move around twice in a matter of a few days? What's the problem between Eutelsat and SES?

A: For over a decade, SES (Astra) and Eutelsat have co-located their satellites side by side at 28 degrees East, with each operator responsible for their own band of frequencies.

Now SES has asserted rights over most of Eutelsat's frequencies. The orbital position (28 degrees East) used by the satellites serving the UK and Ireland was originally used by German satellite system DFS Kopernikus, operated by Germany's Deutsche Telekom. Eutelsat obtained the rights in 1999 to use a 500 MHz block of frequencies (11.45 – 11.70 GHz and 12.50 – 12.75 GHz), formerly used by Kopernikus when the orbital position became the new location for UK and Ireland digital TV broadcasts and Eutelsat launched its own satellite there. Media Broadcast took over the relevant part of Deutsche Telekom's satellite business in the early 00s and subsequently gave SES the rights to use the frequencies.

There has been a legal wrangle between the two satellite operators over the exact terms and conditions of the frequency rights awards and whether Media Broadcast was in a position to award the frequency rights to SES, given the earlier agreement between Deutsche Telekom and Eutelsat. The case is proving to be complex and with many twists and turns involving details not in the public domain. A German court recently told Eutelsat to stop using the contested frequencies from 4th October, which is why services are now having to move. The temporary frequencies ensure that that services are not lost during the transitional time. Eutelsat is appealing the decision to stop it using the frequencies.

A tribunal at the International Chamber of Commerce ruled that SES could use the frequencies "if and when Eutelsat no longer holds the regulatory right to operate in those bands", but didn't specify when this might be. The tribunal continues.

Pending the final outcome and further rulings before then further changes may yet occur.

In the meantime, around the 4th October, broadcasters, uplink providers and satellite platform operators have ensured that services are moved away from the contested frequencies, just in case there are any last minute legal or technical issues and to ensure that UK and Ireland viewers can continue watching TV as normal. If all goes to plan, most services will be switched of Eutelsat 28A, temporarily held on Astra 1N and 2A, with Astra 2F ultimately taking the services. Before and after the 4th October, there will be a spell of simulcasting, in order to give Sky and Freesat enough time to get their EPGs updated so that receivers go to the right frequencies for the affected channels when viewers select the relevant channel numbers. Most Sky and Freesat viewers will therefore not notice any changes to the service they receive, nor the channel numbers they access services on.

It should be noted that with the exception of S4C of Wales, non of the main UK and Irish public service channels are affected by the changes.

Satellite changes: How it affects you >
Have you got Sky? Freesat? A generic free-to-air satellite receiver? Do you live in continental Europe? Read more about how the changes could affect you.

List of temporary frequency allocations >
If you are manually retuning, this is where services have gone to for the time being.

Case study: RT >
See how the changes are happening for news channel RT - an example of the many changes taking place across the 28 degrees East satellite platform this week.

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