2 Minutes for Interference?

Canadian upstart Ciel Satellite Group is in a battle with DirecTV over the 103° West orbital slot, via the Ottawa Citizen:

In a war of words at the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, the two companies are accusing each other of threatening effective operation of broadcast satellites and undermining global industry rules. But behind the rhetoric is the deadly serious business of building investor confidence to finance satellites that cost $300 million each to construct, insure and launch.

Ciel is working with an undisclosed manufacturer on the Ciel 6 satellite, scheduled for launch in 2012.

DirecTV got FCC approval in July to launch the RB-2A satellite. Now called DirecTV-12, it was shipped earlier this month to Kazakhstan for launch in the near future.

Combined with two other DirecTV satellites, it will deliver 200 high-definition channels. The FCC said the new satellite "will stimulate competition in the United States and provide consumers more alternatives in choosing communication services." The FCC must consider major issues in the dispute.

In theory, the two satellites can co-exist in the same orbit path. But that would involve technology compromises to avoid signal interference. The changes could limit the markets each seeks to tap.

With consumers and business demanding more bandwidth-hungry high-definition television, video and Internet services, the battle for spectrum and satellites to support the market is growing.

DirecTV is the biggest U.S. satellite direct-to-home service company with 18 million subscribers, plus another six million in Latin America.

It said recently that two-thirds of new subscribers signed up for high-definition TV and related hardware services in the September quarter, the highest level in company history.

DirecTV generated $5.47 billion U.S. in revenues in the September quarter, 10 per cent more than a year earlier.

Ciel has only one satellite in service but it has some powerful allies. Its investors include Borealis, an arm of the giant Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS), and SES Americom, one of the world’s biggest satellite operators.

It won its first Canadian licence in 2004 and launched its first satellite last year to serve an orbital slot off the coast of B.C. It is developing business plans for six more slots awarded by the federal government last year.

It also has a big customer in DISH Network, which is a direct competitor to Direct TV. Calian Technologies manages the Ciel satellite under a long-term contract.

I’m relatively certain Telesat is in this fight, too. EchoStar is on the bench, ready to jump over the boards if required.

As they say in hockey, it’s part of the game.