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ICO Global struggles to keep spectrum

The trouble begins with the European Commission’s initiative to select a single pan-European operating system for mobile TV, high speed Internet and communications. By last December, it had applications for this juicy plum from Solaris, an SES Astra and Eutelsat joint venture, and three other contenders — Inmarsat, ICO-Global and TerreStar.

The commission picked Solaris as the winner.

There was only one fly in the ointment: Whoever won would need a bunch of pan-European S-band spectrum, and ICO-Global was already sitting on some of it that had been registered for its ICO-P satellite system.

Then Ofcom, the UK independent regulator and competition authority for its communications industries, responsible for television, radio, telecommunications and wireless communications services, issued plans to “write to the ITU on 17 March to instruct that the ICO-P assignments currently recorded in the ITU Master Register be cancelled.” Ofcom represents the Cayman Islands to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which ICO-Global cites as its headquarters for tax purposes. Got it?

ICO’s response amounts to: How many ways can we say we were there first? "The ITU has made a habit of awarding frequencies to the company, which had previously laid claims to part of the S-band for its own DVB-SH venture, on that basis,” according to Windsor Holden of Juniper Research. And ICO had already begun proceedings in the European Court of First Instance to annul the European Parliament’s EC S-band spectrum sweepstakes in the first place because of its prior claim on it.

ICO vows to continue “to defend its international legal rights, including through participation in international regulatory organizations and litigation.” But if the ITU agrees to Ofcom’s recommendation, ICO will have to win the spectrum and the EC contest both on its own merits.

This is still good news to rival Solaris Mobile because its vaunted Eutelsat W2A February satellite launch has already been delayed to March 28. Even if Solaris is ready for launch by month’s end, litigation may slow down commercial deployment further.

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