FCC Proposes Allowing 2-Way Ku-Band Systems on Aircraft

February 15, 2005
You have probably noticed there is a great deal of interest in providing broadband data and communications capability aboard aircraft. Last week the FCC began a rulemaking that would establish a framework for licensing two-way Ku-band systems on aircraft to communicate with fixed-satellite service (FSS) networks.

The "Airphone" system deployed in the 1980s depended on a series of ground stations operating in the 800 MHz band using a form of single-sideband amplitude modulation. While some of these systems have been modified to carry data and allow checking e-mail, the maximum data rate is usually less than 9,600 bps. In contrast, existing two-way broadband services using Ku-band satellites (DirecWay and Starband, for example) provide download speeds exceeding 500 kbps.

Satellite systems on aircraft would be licensed in the Aeronautical Mobile Satellite Service (AMSS). According to the FCC news release announcing the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), "Aircraft Earth stations (AESs) in the AMSS can be used to provide broadband telecommunications services to passengers and crew on commercial, government, and executive/private aircraft. The Notice responds to an emerging marketplace need by potentially permitting more flexible use of the Ku-band while protecting existing fixed terrestrial and satellite services from harmful interference."

The NPRM proposes blanket licensing of an AMSS network similar to the rules for VSATs operating in the Ku-band and discusses ways of protecting the space research service and radio astronomy service sites from AMSS operations in the band.

The NPRM has yet to be released, but some additional information is available in the FCC news release announcing the NPRM.

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