The long and twisting legal battle over Inmarsat‘s European Aviation Network (EAN) took another turn this afternoon in England. The Competition Appeal Tribunal in London ruled in favor of Inmarsat and EAN. Viasat had challenged the granting of authority by British Regulator Ofcom to permit Inmarsat’s usage of a terrestrial network as the primary transmission medium. With that challenge dismissed the authorization granted by Ofcom remains in full effect.
Today’s judgment clearly highlights the diligent work undertaken by Ofcom in the process by which they awarded the CGC authorisation to Inmarsat. EAN represents an outstanding technological innovation, which has taken years of hard work and commitment to deliver and I am delighted to say it will very shortly be available to passengers across Europe. – Rupert Pearce, Inmarsat CEO
Viasat expressed “disappointment” with the ruling but vowed to continue the legal battle over the network. Colin Ward, head of litigation for the US-based company highlighted inconsistencies in the court’s ruling, “The Court’s interpretation of the law, and in particular its conclusion that a mobile satellite system can rely on ‘complementary ground components’ to provide over 99% of the service’s bandwidth, is wrong and runs directly contrary to both the law’s intent and plain meaning.“
The Court agreed with Viasat on all of the core facts: Inmarsat’s contemplated EAN service will be delivered almost exclusively through a terrestrial air-to-ground network, and not a satellite-based network. We believe the Court went astray where it concluded that such a system somehow complies with the original Mobile Satellite System (MSS) Decision of the EU Legislature, which envisioned that a mobile satellite system would, as its name implies, use a satellite as the primary means of transmission, with terrestrial components serving a much more limited role of supplementing the satellite availability where needed.
Viasat also expressed concern that key portions of its argument were deferred to other courts or future enforcement actions. As such, Ward vowed to “continue to press our case in the UK and throughout Europe.” One such challenge still alive is in Belgium.
For its part Inmarsat has not tried to hide the fact that it expects the vast majority of traffic to pass over the “complimentary ground component” terrestrial network. That plan will allow the company to offer more capacity and lower latency to aircraft across the 300+ ground-stations built out by Deutsche Telekom. Indeed, the company would deliver its best service if the satellite it launched in 2017 sees zero traffic from aircraft.
The question remains: Do the ground components fit the regulatory definition of Complimentary Ground Component (CGC) “to increase the availability of the mobile satellite service in geographical areas, located within the footprint of the system satellite (s), where communications with one or more space stations can not be provided with the required quality?” Inmarsat has successfully convinced many national regulators that the “required quality” includes insufficient capacity, not just a lack of coverage or line-of-sight to the satellite.
Read More: Shipping ATG out to sea
Viasat and Eutelsat continue to challenge that approach. And, in the interim, Inmarsat and IAG continue to work towards commercial launch of the product. Telekom is also working to expand the ground station component, including adding stations in the North Sea, one area where Inmarsat’s S-band satellite is necessary for coverage and where Viasat’s Ka-SAT lacks coverage.