Inmarsat has initiated civil court proceedings against the Dutch Government to maintain maritime safety and emergency communications
The London-headquartered satellite owner is seeking a judge’s ruling on the potential illegality of the proposed Netherlands’ National Frequency Plan (NFP). Inmarsat wants an injunction to review the change in spectrum allocation set out by the Dutch Government, as it believes the NFP is in contravention of national and international law.
Under the NFP, the government wants to auction the 3.5 GHz spectrum, currently used by essential satellite-based maritime safety services, to 5G telecommunications companies. Inmarsat thinks this is unnecessary given both could operate within the spectrum band in question.
Inmarsat uses around 25% of the 3.5 GHz band for safety messages and emergency communications over the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) to mariners. Its free, life-saving safety and distress satellite services for seafarers worldwide has a ground station in Burum in the northern part of the Netherlands.
If the Dutch Government continues with its NFP plan, Inmarsat will have to invest in a new ground station outside of the Netherlands.
Inmarsat has another ground station in Fucino, Italy to enable GMDSS communications, but it requires two in Europe to ensure high reliability and performance levels of connectivity with its geostationary satellites.
“We wish to find an amicable solution to this issue with the Dutch Government and to continue providing safety operations from Burum,” said Inmarsat.
It has been trying to find solution for more than 18 months through negotiations. “However, to date one has not been possible due to the intransigence of the Ministry of Economic Affairs,” said Inmarsat.
“Should the Ministry wish to resume conversations towards a mutually agreed solution, Inmarsat would continue its approach of constructive engagement in the interests of the users of the company’s vital safety services.”
This Ministry sold the first packages of 5G spectrum in 2020, in the 700 MHz, 1.4 GHz and 2.1 GHz bands. It intends to auction the 3.5 GHz spectrum in 2022.
If Inmarsat’s court action fails, Inmarsat would need to move its essential services for more than 1.6M seafarers and 160,000 vessels to another country to continue its operations.
“This is unnecessary following technical studies that prove that coexistence is possible between satellite services and 5G telecoms,” said Inmarsat, adding “millions of seafarers and aviation passengers and crew depend daily” on operations in Burum.
Inmarsat also has issue with the rapid speed needed within the Dutch NFP for investment in a new ground station outside of the country.
“Should a move be forced on Inmarsat, then the proposed timing of the changeover in frequency use in the NFP is unrealistic and will require a long transitional term to carry out the wholly avoidable move,” said Inmarsat.
There was more positive maritime communications news in Greece as Inmarsat signed an agreement with SRH Marine Electronics concerning services to shipping companies. Through this deal, SRH will support shipping companies in Greece and Cyprus, whose maritime communications contracts were purchased from Speedcast by Inmarsat at the beginning of 2021.
Speedcast sold these contracts to Inmarsat as part of its financial restructuring and emergence from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March. “Following the rapid and successful migration of the services of all these customers as part of the agreement with Speedcast, we are now delighted to have put in place a formal agreement for customer support with SRH,” said Inmarsat Maritime president Ronald Spithout.
The agreement will include customer support for Inmarsat’s Fleet Network Manager (formerly Speedcast’s Sigma) portfolio of hardware products. It only covers clients who held Inmarsat Maritime contracts formerly with Speedcast.
“We look forward to providing a high level of account management and customer support to this set of unique customers in Greece and Cyprus,” said SRH managing director Theodoros Nikolopoulos.
Also on 31 March, Inmarsat announced a new seasonal promotion for seafarer communications to give them 33% extra talk-time FleetBroadband and Fleet Xpress ChatCards between 1 to 5 April 2021. It also encourages seafarers to purchase 1 GB and five-hour Fleet Hotspot allowances from the Fleet Hotspot portal on board during the same period for US$10 instead of the usual US$15.
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