Consultation on the Licensing Framework for Non-Geostationary Satellite Orbit (NGSO) Systems and Clarification of Application Procedures for All Satellite Licence Applications

March 2017

Reply comments period extended to May 11, 2017 at 17:00 EST

Comment period extended to April 18, 2017


1. Intent

1. The purpose of this consultation is to seek comments on proposed changes to the licensing rules for non-geostationary satellite orbit (NGSO) systems.

2. In this document, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED or the Department) is seeking comments on the following elements of the licensing policy and procedures outlined in Radio Systems Policy (RP) 008 - Policy Framework for Fixed-Satellite Service (FSS) and Broadcasting-Satellite Service (BSS) ("the Policy") and Client Procedures Circular (CPC)2-6-02 — Licensing of Space Stations ("the Procedures"), as they apply to NGSO systems:

  • limiting the number of licences per band for certain commercial systems;
  • changes to Canadian direction and control requirements;
  • changes to Canadian coverage and capacity requirements;
  • removal of coexistence as an assessment criterion;
  • clarification of implementation milestones; and
  • measures to address coordination disputes.

3. In addition, views are sought related to clarification of the procedures for re-assigning spectrum when authorizations have been returned or revoked.

4. Following the consultation, the Policy and Procedures will be updated and the moratorium on commercial NGSO systems will be lifted.

2. Mandate

5. The Minister of Industry, through the Department of Industry Act, the Radiocommunication Act and the Radiocommunication Regulations, with due regard to the objectives of the Telecommunications Act, is responsible for spectrum management in Canada. As such, the Minister is responsible for developing goals and national policies for spectrum resource use and ensuring effective management of the radio frequency spectrum resource.

3. Legislation

6. The Minister of Industry is provided the general powers for spectrum management in Canada pursuant to section 5 of the Radiocommunication Act and section 19 of the Department of Industry Act. The Governor in Council may make regulations with respect to spectrum management pursuant to section 6 of the Radiocommunciation Act, which have been prescribed under the Radiocommunication Regulations.

4. Policy objective

7. In fulfilling its spectrum management mandate, ISED’s policy objective is to maximize the economic and social benefits that Canadians derive from the use of the radio frequency spectrum resource. In licensing satellites, ISED is also guided by the objective of ensuring that Canadian satellite users (e.g. broadcasters, government institutions and telecommunications firms) have access to the satellite capacity that they need to carry out their respective functions, and to ensure that services are available throughout Canada, including the North. These objectives are furthered through the imposition of licensing rules and conditions, including those related to national coverage and the availability of sufficient capacity for Canadian use.

5. Background

8. In January 2014, ISED introduced new licensing rules for satellites. This included revisions to the existing procedures for first come, first served (FCFS) licensing, the application of FCFS licensing to fixed- and broadcasting-satellite services (FSS and BSS), and the introduction of spectrum licences to authorize FSS and BSS satellite frequencies. This updated framework was followed in April 2016 with the implementation of a new spectrum licence fee for FSS/BSS spectrum. The purpose of these changes was to establish a modern, attractive licensing regime that is comparable to those in similar countries. The consultation that led to these changes was undertaken before the re-emergence of large NGSO constellations for fixed-satellite services. Although the existing licensing rules apply to NGSO systems, they were not developed for the types of commercial "mega" constellations that are now being proposed and developed.

9. On June 15, 2016, ISED imposed a moratorium on the licensing of commercial NGSO systems to allow the Department to review the current framework. The review examined whether the Department’s licensing rules and obligations, as applied to NGSO systems, are appropriate and whether Canadian coverage and capacity needs will be met by Canadian-licensed systems.

6. Areas for comment

6.1 Limit on the number of licences per band

10. This section applies to commercial systems, with the exception of those systems whose purpose is data gathering (e.g. earth observation, automated identification systems (AIS), etc.) and that transmit to a small number of fixed earth stations.

11. The Department believes that FCFS licensing, which is the most commonly used process internationally, remains the most appropriate process for commercial NGSO systems. Although there is an almost unlimited combination of parameters for NGSO systems, theoretically allowing many systems to operate, operational considerations will impose limits for global constellations designed to provide ubiquitous connectivity. This understanding was reflected in ISED’s introduction of the coexistence criterion into the application assessment process for satellite spectrum in January 2014. As long as applicants demonstrated that their proposed system could coexist with already authorized Canadian NGSO systems, and all other licensing criteria were met, they could be granted a licence. At a certain point, it was expected that coexistence would no longer be demonstrable, and ISED would not grant additional licences. The application of this criterion would therefore have had the effect of limiting the number of systems that ISED would licence. For practical reasons, ISED is proposing to remove the coexistence criterion from its licensing process (see section 6.4).

12. The uncertainly around final technical characteristics, the international regulatory framework, and how many systems will be able to successfully coordinate and be commercially viable (particularly for high density FSS systems) remains. In recognition of this uncertainty, and of the future demands on ISED to support both domestic and international coordination efforts of Canadian-licensed systems, the Department is seeking views on whether to impose a limit on the number of licences to be issued per frequency band. A frequency band is defined by the bands listed in Annex A of the Policy.

13. In the late 1990’s, work was undertaken by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in the area of newly emerging NGSO FSS systems. This work focused both on establishing protection criteria for geostationary satellites in bands shared with NGSO systems, as well as on understanding the potential for NGSO systems to share frequencies. Some studies indicated that 3 to 5 systems could share a given frequency band. In the absence of more recent studies, ISED is seeking views on what would be an appropriate number of systems to licence per frequency band, if a limit is deemed necessary.

14. If a limit is established, when a licence is revoked or returned to the Department, leaving fewer than the maximum number of licensed systems, ISED would consider applications for that spectrum. (See section 7 on procedures regarding applications for spectrum where authorizations have been revoked or returned.)

15. Data gathering, science, academic and government systems typically involve a single or small number of satellites communicating with a limited number of earth stations, and generally use different spectrum than those providing FSS. These systems would therefore not be subject to a limit on the number of licences issued per frequency band.

A. ISED seeks views on the following:

  1. Whether to impose a limit on the number of licences issued per band for commercial systems;
  2. If so, what would be an appropriate limit; and
  3. If a limit is imposed, whether to exclude systems whose purpose is data gathering and that transmit to a small number of fixed earth stations and non-commercial systems (i.e. academic, government and developmental) from this limit.

6.2 Changes to Canadian direction and control requirements

16. The following is related to section 3.2.2 of the Procedures and applies to NGSO systems.

17. The licensing rules adopted in January 2014 introduced the flexibility for licensees to exercise contractual control over the telemetry, telecommand and control (TT&C) facilities of the authorized system and to allow the location of primary TT&C facilities to be outside of Canada. While those changes are still supported for geostationary satellite orbit (GSO) networks, they may not be appropriate for more complex NGSO systems.

18. Large NGSO systems, specifically those used for the provision of ubiquitous Internet connectivity, are new. Technologies for both the space and ground segments are rapidly evolving, and in some cases are unproven in commercial deployments. The international procedures are less clear for coordination and the interference environment between systems is much more complex. Additionally, low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites that frequently cross the radiation belts will require regular replacement and de-orbiting of satellites.

19. The operating environment for large NGSO constellations providing ubiquitous connectivity is unproven, and there is a lack of experience as compared to the decades of knowledge acquired from the operation of traditional geostationary satellites. Small constellations and single NGSO satellites, with which there are many years of experience, will also be operating in this increasingly complex environment.

20. Consequently, ISED proposes to require primary direction and control facilities, including the primary network operations centre, to be located within Canadian territory. This reflects the challenges described above, in particular the increased potential for interference from these systems. The Department also proposes that licence applications must include a description and the planned location(s) of these facilities. If the location is not known at the time of application, it is proposed that confirmation of the final location(s) be added to the second implementation milestone as a condition of licence. Completion of such facilities would be also be added to the milestone associated with the first satellite(s) being in operation.

B. ISED seeks comments on the following proposals:

  1. Primary TT&C and network operations centre for all NGSO systems must be located within Canadian territory;
  2. A description and planned location of the facilities must be included in licence applications;
  3. Confirmation of the final location of these facilities will be included in the second implementation milestone as part of the conditions of licence; and
  4. Construction of the facilities will be included in the milestone associated with the first satellite(s) being in operation.

6.3 Changes to Canadian coverage and capacity requirements

21. The following is related to section 3.2.3 of the Policy and section 3.2.4.2(I) and Annex A of the Procedures, and applies only to commercial FSS/BSS systems.

6.3.1 Coverage

22. The current procedures do not establish a measurable minimum Canadian coverage requirement for NGSO systems; they simply state that NGSO operators "will be required to cover the entire Canadian territory visible from the satellite to the extent possible from the satellite’s position in orbit." Additionally, the requirement to reserve capacity for Canadian use is not clearly defined, with operators required to "reserve an amount of satellite capacity for use by Canadians that is proportional to the Canadian territory covered vis-à-vis the entire territory covered from the position in orbit."

23. In order to clarify licensees’ obligations and help ensure that global systems licensed by Canada provide capacity for Canadian use as a priority, ISED is proposing to implement the following requirements for commercial FSS/BSS NGSO systems.

24. All commercial FSS/BSS NGSO constellations must cover 100% of the Canadian territory 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. ISED’s determination of whether a proposed constellation covers 100% of Canadian territory will be based on the unique combination of altitude, inclination angle and required angle of arrival of signals for the requested frequency band(s) for the proposed system.  For example, a low-Earth orbit (LEO) system in circular orbit at an altitude of 1000 km and an inclination angle of 75°, and proposing to provide services in Ka band with a required angle of arrival of 25°, would be considered to meet the requirement. The same system, but with an inclination angle of 65°, would not meet the requirement. To determine whether coverage can be provided on a 24/7 basis throughout the entire territory, ISED will consider the number of planes, number of satellites per plane, and the beam patterns of the proposed system.

25. In order to ensure that this coverage can be used for the provision of services to Canadians, licensees would also be required to establish a sufficient number of gateways in Canada to provide service throughout the territory. It is proposed that for LEO systems that do not employ inter-satellite links (ISL), a minimum of two gateways in Canada would be required. For LEO systems that use ISL, medium-Earth orbit (MEO), and highly elliptical orbit (HEO) systems, licensees would be required to establish at least one gateway in Canada. Plans for the number and location of gateways would be required as part of a licence application. Confirmation of the final location(s) would also be added to the second implementation milestone as a condition of licence. Completion of the gateways would be added to the milestone associated with the first satellite(s) being in operation.

26. ISED would only consider a waiver from these coverage requirements if the applicant/licensee is already operating an NGSO system that provides services to 100% of the Canadian territory.

C. ISED seeks comments on the following proposals on Canadian coverage:

  1. All commercial NGSO FSS/BSS satellites must cover 100% of Canadian territory on a 24/7 basis;
  2. There must be a sufficient number of gateway stations located in Canada to provide services throughout 100% of Canadian territory:
    1. Two for LEO systems without ISL;
    2. One for LEO systems with ISL; and
    3. One for MEO and HEO systems;
  3. A description and planned location of the gateway stations must be included in the licence application;
  4. Confirmation of the final location of the gateway stations will be included in the second implementation milestone;
  5. The completion of the gateway stations will be included in the milestone associated with the first satellite(s) being in operation; and
  6. No waivers will be granted from the coverage requirement unless the applicant is already operating a constellation that provides coverage to 100% of Canadian territory.

6.3.2 Capacity

Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) Systems:

27. It is proposed that all of the satellite capacity when over Canada be reserved for Canadian use for the entire term of the licence. The following provides clarification of how this requirement applies when an individual satellite also covers an area outside of Canada (e.g. when transiting a border area). For each satellite, licensees must reserve capacity for use by Canadians that is equal to the proportion of the Canadian territory covered vis-à-vis the total territory covered by that individual satellite.

28. ISED proposes to define all constellations below 2000 kilometers in altitude to be LEO systems.

Medium-Earth Orbit (MEO) and Highly Elliptical Orbit (HEO) Systems:

29. Because of the larger coverage area of MEO and HEO systems, it is proposed that, for each satellite, licensees must reserve capacity for use by Canadians that is equal to the proportion of the Canadian territory covered vis-à-vis the total territory covered by that individual satellite.

30. The larger coverage area for MEO and HEO systems also means that it may be too burdensome if ISED were to require licensees to reserve capacity for use by Canadians for the entire term of the licence. However, ISED does not believe that the six month reservation requirement that is applied to GSO systems is appropriate for MEO or HEO systems. The business environment for global NGSO systems that is emerging is significantly different from the "traditional" GSO model. New technologies, the production of multiple satellites serving a global market, their shorter lifespans, and the potential to add satellites to augment capacity and accommodate new requirements all point towards greater system flexibility when compared with the highly customized, fixed nature of GSO satellites.

31. It is therefore proposed that capacity for MEO and HEO systems be reserved for Canadian use until the launch of the first satellite(s). In order to request a waiver from this requirement at that time, licensees would be required to submit the information outlined in Annex A of the Procedures to the Department for its consideration. 

D. ISED seeks comments on the following proposals related to capacity for Canadian users:

  1. Licensees of LEO systems must reserve 100% of capacity for the Canadian market while the satellites are over Canada, as described in section 6.3.2;
  2. Such capacity must be reserved for the term of the licence;
  3. Licensees of MEO and HEO systems must reserve, for each satellite, capacity for use by Canadians that is equal to the proportion of the Canadian territory covered vis-à-vis the total territory covered by that individual satellite; and
  4. Such capacity must be reserved until time of launch.

6.4 Removal of coexistence as an assessment criterion

32. The following is related to section 3.2.4.2 II of the Procedures and applies to all NGSO systems.

33. The current procedures require that all proposed satellites be able to coexist with both approved and operational Canadian satellites assigned the same spectrum. For all NGSO satellites, "applicants must provide a detailed analysis showing that their satellite(s) can coexist with other Canadian geostationary and non-geostationary satellites assigned the same spectrum."

34. This criterion has proven difficult to use for a number of reasons, including: the lack of publicly available information for applicants needing to conduct an analysis; the fact that system designs can evolve post-licensing, which could affect an earlier coexistence determination; and the absence of established regulatory triggers (other than frequency overlap) for coordination between NGSO systems. Canada is the only licensing administration that considers coexistence before granting a spectrum authorization.

35. Given the above, ISED is proposing to no longer consider coexistence with other NGSO systems as part of a licence application for any NGSO system.

E. ISED seeks comments on the proposal to no longer assess coexistence with authorized and approved Canadian NGSO systems as part of the licence application process.

6.5 Clarification of implementation milestones

36. The following relates to section 4.1 of the Procedures, and to conditions of licence referred to in Annex B of the Procedures and applies to all NGSO systems.

37. Large NGSO constellations, involving hundreds or thousands of satellites, present significant logistical challenges for system deployment, in particular with respect to launch scheduling. The final implementation milestone as currently defined requires "the submission of documentation certifying that: the remaining satellite(s) have been launched and placed in the authorized orbit; and in-orbit operations have been tested and found to be consistent with the terms of the authorization." In general, ISED strictly enforces implementation milestones, but has recognized the unique circumstance of large constellations through the imposition of the following exception in existing commercial NGSO FSS authorizations: "If at least one-third of the constellation has been launched by the final milestone date, ISED may consider, at its discretion, extending that milestone if requested due to unforeseen delays in satellite delivery and/or satellite launch scheduling.’’ 

38. ISED proposes to formalize this approach to the implementation of large NGSO systems by requiring that one-third of the authorized constellation be deployed by the sixth year following the issuance of the licence, with the full constellation deployed by nine years after licensing. ISED proposes to define large NGSO systems as those with 30 or more satellites.

39. The issue of deployment, as it relates to the bringing into use of assigned frequencies by NGSO systems, is currently being discussed in ITU-R Working Party 4A. Should the ITU adopt new regulatory requirements to bring an assignment into use, ISED may review its domestic milestones to ensure they remain appropriate.

F. ISED seeks comments on the following proposals to modify the implementation milestones for large NGSO systems to require that:

  1. One-third of the authorized constellation be deployed by Year 6; and
  2. The full constellation be deployed by Year 9.

G. ISED seeks comments on the proposal to define large constellations as those with 30 or more satellites.

6.6 Measures to address coordination disputes

40. The following relates to changes in the conditions of licence associated with domestic coordination, as described in Annex B of the Procedures, and affects all NGSO systems.

41. The removal of the requirement to demonstrate coexistence at the time of application will align ISED with other licensing administrations. Unlike networks in the GSO arc, where greater homogeneity among networks and many years of coordination experience have led to established practices, there are almost infinite combinations of orbital parameters, services and coverage areas for NGSO systems. These infinite combinations make it difficult to pre-determine whether authorizing one system would pre-empt the use of the same spectrum by another. There is currently a lack of established coordination practices and experience for large, commercial NGSO systems, aside from frequency segmentation, which has been applied to existing MSS systems in the L-band.

42. The ongoing responsibility to participate in coordination activities, with a view to protecting the network/system and fulfilling ITU obligations, is imposed on all licensees through conditions of licence. In general, it is uncommon for ISED to be directly involved in coordination discussions.

43. While regulatory certainty is extremely important in the development of satellite projects, perhaps even more so in the emerging NGSO context, ISED does not intend to change its fundamental approach to coordination, or to take a more active role in coordination discussions. However, recognizing the uncertain coordination environment for NGSO systems, ISED is seeking comments on two possible mechanisms for the resolution of domestic coordination disputes.

44. The first possible mechanism that could be used in the event of unsuccessful domestic coordination is the introduction of licensing rules mandating spectrum sharing during in-line interference events.  In-line interference occurs when an NGSO satellite is directly between an earth station and another NGSO satellite.

45. In addition to views on this general approach, comments are sought on what would be an appropriate avoidance angleFootnote 1 and whether the division of spectrum should be equal among licensees or based on a split that reflects the regulatory precedence of the systems involved (e.g. 40% to first, 35% to second, 25% to third). In either case, the operator that has licensing priority would select its frequencies first.

46. A second possible mechanism to facilitate domestic coordination is the introduction of a rule requiring the use of a third-party dispute resolution process at the cost of the licensees. One process that could be adopted is that outlined in CPC-2-0-18, Industry Canada’s Arbitration Rules and Procedures. Another model ISED could adopt is described in the ITU’s Optional Protocol on the Compulsory Settlement of Disputes Relating to the Constitution of the International Telecommunication Union, to the Convention of the International Telecommunication Union and to the Administrative Regulations. The intent would not be to require the dispute resolution process to be binding on the parties. Rather, the Department would take the results of the dispute resolution process into account in resolving the coordination dispute.

47. These mechanisms are not mutually exclusive, and could be used in combination. For instance, the first step could be to undertake dispute resolution and if coordination remains unsuccessful, mandatory spectrum sharing during in-line interference events would be imposed.

48. ISED will also be actively engaged, through the ITU, to refine the international regulatory framework as it applies to non-geostationary systems. The Department will review its domestic framework when new rules or recommendations are adopted. In the interim, ISED is considering the measures outlined above to provide greater clarity for potential applicants and existing licensees.

H. ISED seeks views on the following mechanisms that could be implemented in the event of unsuccessful domestic coordination:

  1. The imposition of spectrum sharing during in-line interference events;
  2. What would be an appropriate angle to define in-line events;
  3. Whether the spectrum should be split on an equal basis or reflect the regulatory status (authorization) of the systems involved;
  4. The mandated use of a third party dispute resolution process, prior to seeking the Department’s assistance in resolving a coordination dispute; and
  5. Which of the two dispute resolution processes referenced in paragraph 46 should be adopted.

6.6.1 Coordination requirements for foreign-licensed systems seeking approval to operate in Canada

49. Current procedures to obtain ISED’s approval for the use of foreign satellites in Canada are outlined in Client Procedures Circular (CPC) 2-6-01, Procedure for the Submission of Applications to License Fixed Earth Stations and to Approve the Use of Foreign Satellites in Canada.  One of the requirements is that the satellite network be successfully coordinated via the appropriate ITU procedures and regulations. In practice, the Department has approved foreign satellites if coordination with Canadian networks has been completed, even if coordination is not complete with all foreign networks. ISED proposes to continue with this practice.

I. ISED seeks comments on its proposal to continue approving the use of foreign-licensed NGSO systems in Canada if coordination has been completed with Canadian networks, without requiring international coordination to be completed.

7. Changes to procedures affecting revoked or returned authorizations

50. The following relates to sections 2, 5.6 and 5.7 of the Procedures and affects all types of satellite networks and systems, both GSO and NGSO.

51. Currently, the Procedures do not address how ISED makes spectrum available from revoked or returned authorizations.  This has allowed licensees to return authorizations and then immediately apply for the same spectrum before others know that it is available. This practice is not in keeping with the intent of FCFS licensing, nor with the Department’s commitments to strictly enforce implementation milestones and to a fair and transparent process.

52. As a result, ISED will implement the following procedures for revoked and returned authorizations. The previously authorized spectrum will not be immediately available for any applicant once returned. Instead, ISED will publish, on its website, a notice that an authorization has come back to the Department, including the frequencies and orbital position. ISED will not receive applications for the spectrum until 30 calendar days after the notice of return has been posted.

J. ISED seeks comments on the following proposals:

  1. Spectrum that is returned to the Department will not be immediately available for re-assignment;
  2. ISED will publish a notice on its website indicating that spectrum has been returned; and
  3. ISED will begin to receive applications for the returned spectrum 30 calendar days after the notice has been published on ISED’s Spectrum Management and Telecommunications website.

8. Lifting the moratorium

53. Following the close of this consultation, the Department will publish new versions of RP-008 — Policy Framework for Fixed-Satellite Service (FSS) and Broadcasting-Satellite Service (BSS) and CPC 2-6-02 — Licensing of Space Stations. The Department will also repeal Spectrum Advisory Bulletin (SAB)-001-14 — Requirements for the Licensing of Space Stations, the content of which will be incorporated into the updated CPC 2-6-02.

54. A Spectrum Advisory Bulletin will be published at the same time as the revised policy and procedures to announce the lifting of the moratorium, which is expected to be two weeks after those documents are published. Operators with applications that are currently on hold due to the moratorium will have those two weeks to modify their application to comply with the new procedures. If an updated application is not received in that time, the application that had been on hold will be dismissed.

9. Submitting comments

55. Respondents are requested to provide their comments in electronic format (Microsoft Word or Adobe PDF), along with a note specifying the software, version number and operating system used, to the following email address: ic.satelliteauthorization-autorisationsatellite.ic@canada.ca.

56. In addition, respondents are asked to specify the paragraph or proposal number for ease of referencing and to provide supporting rationale for each response.

57. Written submissions should be addressed to the Director General, Engineering, Planning and Standards Branch, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, 6th Floor, 235 Queen Street, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0H5.

58. All submissions should cite the Canada Gazette, Part I, the publication date, the title, and the notice reference number (SMSE-009-17). Parties should submit their comments no later than 30 days following the date of publication of this document to ensure consideration. Soon after the close of the comment period, all comments received will be posted on the Department’s Spectrum Management and Telecommunications website.

59. The Department will also provide interested parties with the opportunity to reply to comments from other parties. Reply comments will be accepted no later than 15 days following the date of publication of comments.

60. Following the initial comment period, the Department may, at its discretion, request additional information if needed to clarify significant positions or new proposals. In such a case, the reply comment deadline would be extended.

10. Obtaining copies

61. All spectrum-related documents referred to in this paper are available on the Spectrum Management and Telecommunications website.


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