The resolution of a Europe-US row over satellite spectrum allocation will pave the way for an explosion of global multimedia and Internet data services for business and consumers shortly after the millennium.
Alcatel's satellite wideband data communications system, Skybridge, was the most immediate winner from the peace, which was reached at the World Radio Telecommunications Conference (WRC 97) in Geneva last week.
The French company has been granted all the frequencies it requested in the KU band (12GHz to 18GHz), and is now on target for the 2001 launch date of its service. But the success has come only after two years of determined lobbying to sideline US opposition.
"We are extremely satisfied. We came here with a list of regulatory goals, and even the most optimistic amongst us could not have expected to achieve them all. But after last night's meeting we have a 100 per cent record," Mark McCann, the Skybridge delegation leader, said.
Before the conference began on 27 October, there were fears that US government opposition to European plans for spectrum allocation and management could jeopardise the development of global satellite-based Internet and multimedia services.
"Going into this conference there were two approaches to spectrum allocation. The US approach of 'first come first served', and a more equitable approach, pushed by Europe, for spectrum sharing and reuse. The European view has been emphatically accepted by the world community. In terms of radio frequency allocation, this represents a revolutionary change," McCann said.
Determined US resistance continued into the fourth week of WRC 97. Skybridge felt the US was using its political muscle to protect its own rival system, Teledesic, and to ensure the ratification of Teledesic's KA band (18GHz to 28GHz allocation.
Teledesic, a joint venture between Microsoft's Bill Gates, mobile phone billionaire Craig McCaw and Boeing, was controversially awarded the KA band frequencies at WRC 95, before French-led European intervention made the award subject to ratification at WRC 97.
Teledesic come away from WRC 97 with its 1995 allocation intact, and a further 100MHz of frequency, which it requested at this year's conference. With the spectrum issues now resolved, Teledesic, Skybridge and the third player, Motorola's Celestri, can look forward to competing in what promises to be a booming market.
As Skybridge's McCann said: "It was a case of all three systems move forward, or none at all. Hopefully we can now start talking about the systems again, and not the rows over frequency."
Another issue decided at WRC 97 was an international agreement to minimise 'paper satellites'. A resolution called 'Administrative due diligence' will tighten regulations on the registering of satellite projects.
One pre-conference dispute that has not been satisfactorily resolved is another US-Europe row over spectrum allocation for global positioning systems - usually a suitably euphemistic title for spy satellites.
The dispute looks set to rumble on, as UK-led European objections have blocked a US request for spectrum to operate its hi-tech spying devices. Europe wanted the frequencies allocated to mobile telecommunications operators.
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