In the UK, any person who wishes to operate an earth station gateway, or earth station terminals, as part of a NGSO satellite network must obtain a relevant earth station licence from Ofcom.

In December 2021, Ofcom introduced changes to its existing NGSO earth station licensing process.

As part of the changes introduced, an applicant must show:

  1. Its ability to co-exist with existing NGSO earth station licensees, and any flexibility built into its system which would enable it to co-exist with any future earth station deployments in the UK.
  2. Any impacts the grant of the licence would have on competition (noting that any inability to co-exist would have a negative impact on the deployment of other NGSO operators and therefore a negative impact on competition) and any benefits the grant of the licence would bring to UK customers.

Ofcom will then take the matters noted above into account when making its decision to grant, or not grant, a licence.

Additionally, as part of the new NGSO licensing process, Ofcom will make applications for NGSO earth station licences subject to a 20 working day public comment period.

Ofcom noted that such changes were in response to the complexity of NGSO satellite systems, including that the vast number of satellites in a NGSO constellation increase the complexities of operators agreeing how to operate their networks without causing interference to each other (i.e how to co-exist).

Six new applications for NGSO gateway earth station licences

On 21 June 2022, Ofcom published applications filed by Starlink for the authorisation of six Ka-band NGSO earth station gateways in the UK, at sites including: Bedford, Bristol, Fawley, Hoo, Morn Hill, Wherstead and Woodwalton.

Until yesterday, Ofcom’s new NGSO licensing process had largely been untested.

Ofcom’s preliminary assessment on review of Starlink’s applications, and subject to stakeholder comments received as part of the public comment period, is to grant licences for all six proposed gateways.

Ofcom is seeking comments on the six applications, with comments due by 19 July 2022.

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