Cheaper and more varied mobile communications services delivered by satellite could be available in Europe by 2010 if a new European Union licensing plan for satellite operators achieves its goal.
On Thursday, the European Commission invited bids to launch new satellites to deliver mobile satellite services across Europe. That means satellite operators can now apply to offer services such as high speed data, mobile TV, or emergency communications services through a single European selection procedure, rather than having to navigate 27 different national systems.
The Commission hopes that European businesses and citizens will benefit from new or cheaper services as a result of the simplified procedures.
Many aspects of business in E.U. countries are governed by the E.U. directives that define the so-called single market, but telecommunications services -- including those delivered by satellite -- are still licensed on a national basis. Satellite operators wanting to offer pan-European services have until now had to fulfill different criteria and follow different procedures to obtain licenses in each country.
While the Commission's new rules on satellite services don't do away with national licenses altogether, they do harmonize the application procedure. After that, obtaining national licenses will be little more than a formality.
The Commission will make an initial selection of candidates based on their commercial and technical competence, and then in a second round of evaluation will consider criteria including geographic coverage, consumer and competitive benefits, public policy objectives and spectrum efficiency.
Geographic coverage is the most important criterion: bidders must agree to cover at least 60 percent of E.U. territory when their service opens, and commercialize it in all E.U. countries within seven years.
One benefit the Commission hopes to see from the simplified approval procedure is the introduction of broadband Internet access in rural areas where fixed-line services such as DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) are not economically viable.
Efficient use of spectrum will also be important: the Commission has a frequency band of just 30MHz to play with for the whole of Europe. Terrestrial mobile phone operators have far more spectrum available -- and can further increase capacity by reusing it in different regions, thanks to the limited reach of their signals.
Bidders have until Oct. 7 to file their applications with the Commission. The winners will be announced around the middle of next year, and the Commission expects the first launches of satellites and services by 2010.