SpaceX flags concerns over nextgen ATG service; Gogo hits back


SpaceX has waded into a rulemaking proceeding at the Federal Communications Commission concerning the auction of air-to-ground (ATG) licenses as a secondary service in the 14.0-14.5 GHz band, telling the FCC it has concerns that the nextgen inflight connectivity service would interfere with its planned non-geostationary satellite orbit (NGSO) network. But inflight wifi provider Gogo insists that SpaceX has not substantiated its claims, and has urged the FCC to proceed with the auction.

The new ATG service – because it would be secondary – “would need to protect SpaceX in the 14.0-14.5 GHz band”, as the NGSO will use the band, among other frequencies, SpaceX representatives stressed in their meeting with the FCC. They noted that a previous showing by Qualcomm – which initiated the proceeding with the FCC – regarding interference protection “assumed a wide beamwidth, a low gain, and a G/T of -7 dB/K” for NGSO fixed satellite service (FSS) systems. But these assumptions “are inapplicable to SpaceX’s system, which will have a narrow beamwidth, a high gain, and a maximum G/T of 13 dB/K”.

Moreover, says SpaceX: “Qualcomm had stated in its showing that the proposed air-ground system would account for less than 1% of the rise over thermal (“RoT”) for NGSO FSS systems. When SpaceX substituted its beamwidth, gain, and G/T figures for the figures that had been assumed by Qualcomm, it found, using Qualcomm’s methodology, that the air-ground system in fact would account for over 6% of the RoT for SpaceX’s NGSO FSS system. At the meeting, SpaceX’s representatives supported the proposal in this proceeding by the Satellite Industry Association that aggregate interference from all nonprimary sources, including the proposed air-ground system, be capped at 1% RoT of the NGSO FSS link budget. SpaceX’s representatives also stated they would consider a limit on the order of 0.33%-0.50% for the contribution to RoT of the proposed air-ground service, by itself, to the NGSO FSS link budget.”

Responding to these claims in a filing to the commission, Gogo says SpaceX has failed to provide the details of its interference calculations beyond stating that its system will have a narrow beamwidth, high gain antenna, with a maximum G/T of 13dB/K. “Gogo’s analysis, when incorporating those stated parameters into the Qualcomm interference calculation methodology, finds the resultant RoT from an [ATG] system into the SpaceX NGSO system is far less than 6%,” it says, adding that SpaceX has not presented any reason to further delay the adoption of a Report and Order in the long-pending proceeding, which would pave the way for the auction to take place.

Gogo is eager to participate in the auction to build-out nextgen ATG service for its US partners, including Delta, which intends to equip a portion of its domestic fleet with the new solution if/when it comes on line.

According to satellite industry consultant Tim Farrar’s latest industry report, Gogo has now taken the lead in pushing for an auction to take place, “because we understand that after the recent [Qualcomm] CEO change (which culminated in extensive layoffs in late July), Qualcomm has discontinued its development plans for a 14GHz ATG network and will not bid in the auction or support the buildout of a network by the successful bidders”. But the issue is still cloudy. Qualcomm – which has been investing in SpaceX’s NGSO rival, OneWeb – told FierceWireless that, “We have successfully completed our initial technical development work… Further technical work to commercialize our technology is premature until the FCC issues its ruling.”

As previously reported, Panasonic and Inmarsat have expressed interest in the auction (Inmarsat more formally). Farrar’s consultancy TMF Associates is “convinced that Inmarsat will have to pursue ATG deployment on a wider scale than just Europe in order to supplement GX’s limited satellite capacity. As we concluded in our previous industry report, after AT&T’s decision to exit the inflight connectivity market, Inmarsat was left in a very difficult position and given Inmarsat’s contentious relationship with Gogo, we suggested that ‘it would not be a total surprise if Inmarsat decided to try and support development of a rival ATG network in the US.'”

Yet even as a nextgen ATG remains a draw in the United States, Gogo is moving as quickly as possible to roll out its 2Ku, Ku-band satellite-supported offering. The company received a Supplemental Type Certificate for 2Ku to begin testing the solution on its Boeing 737-500 testbed aircraft. It hopes to launch on Aeromexico and Virgin Atlantic later this year. Additionally, Gogo is understood to be making material headway towards gaining linefit status on the Airbus A350 XWB,  benefitting no doubt from a major nudge from the world’s largest airline in terms of market capitalization – and A350 customer – Delta.