5G communication

Priority: the 5G network must not cause any problems for the shipping sector.

Shipowners:

“Maritime satellite communications and the safety of ships at sea should not be jeopardized by the roll-out of the Dutch 5G network.”

The KVNR calls on the Dutch government to do justice to the international SOLAS convention and EU decisions regarding implementation when rolling out the 5G network in the Netherlands. The Netherlands should first – as required by the EU – make every effort to continue to provide space on the 5G frequency band for the satellite ground station in Burum (coexistence) or – if there really is no other alternative – arrange for the relocation of Inmarsat’s satellite ground station to another, more suitable location in Europe.

Communicatie
KVNR - Niels van de Minkelis - Nautische en Technische zaken - web
Contact

 

Niels van de Minkelis
Technical and Nautical Affairs

+31 6 4824 0287
+31 10 2176 282
minkelis@kvnr.nl

KVNR - Nathan Habers - Public Relations, Crisisco├Ârdinatie en Geopolitiek - web
Press inquiries

 

Nathan Habers
Head of Communications & Pulic Affairs


+31 10 2176 264
habers@kvnr.nl

Context

Maritime satellite communications for the purpose of, for example, emergency and safety messages for international maritime shipping as part of the international Global Maritime Distress Safety System (GMDSS) currently pass through the satellite ground station in the Frisian town of Burum using the 3.5 GHz frequency band.

Satellite communication is an essential aspect of safety at sea. Numerous frequency bands are used for satellite communication. The C band, for example, has a frequency range of 3.4 to 7.0 GHz and is used for, among other reasons, safety messages.

In the Netherlands, the satellite ground station in Burum receives signals from C-band satellites in the 3.5 GHz frequency band and relays them to land-based networks. The European Union has designated the 3.5 GHz band for the rollout of wireless 5G broadband networks in Europe.

The Dutch Shipowners Association (KVNR) understands the importance of the rollout of 5G. However, at the same time, the KVNR is concerned that a release of the 3.5 GHz frequency band without further measures will jeopardise satellite communications essential for the safety of shipping operations. This is especially the case given the development of autonomous ships, where failure or disruption of satellite communications could lead to disasters.

The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (‘SOLAS Convention’), Chapter IV (radio communications), Part B (obligations of contracting states), regulation 5 (provisions for radio communications systems) states that “each Contracting Government undertakes, as it deems practical and necessary, either individually or in cooperation with other Contracting Governments, to make adequate land-based provisions for space-based or terrestrial radio communications systems (...).”

Section 11 of Implementing Decision 2019/235/EC states that “The legal framework for using the 3 400-3 800 MHz frequency band set out by Decision 2008/411/EC should remain unchanged in terms of ensuring continued protection of existing services, other than terrestrial electronic communications networks, within the band. In particular, if retained in the band, earth stations in the fixed satellite service (FSS, space-to-earth) should be given continued protection through appropriate coordination between those systems and wireless broadband networks managed at national level on a case-by-case basis.”

EU Implementing Decision 2014/276/EU states that “the existing deployment of services should not be affected” when an EU Member State authorises the use of the 3400-3800 MHz frequency band. Article 2 states that “the undiminished protection and continued operation of other existing uses in the frequency band.”

The challenge

As a signatory of the international SOLAS Convention and a leading IMO member state (IMO Councillor) and as an EU member state, the Netherlands should not jeopardise the adequate operation of the satellite ground station in Burum.

The KVNR calls on the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate to do justice to the EU implementation decision 2014/276/EU stating that other existing use of the same frequency band as 5G should be protected and continued when rolling out the 5G network in the Netherlands and amending the National Frequency Plan.

Maritime satellite communications for international shipping must not be jeopardised. The Netherlands should first – as required by the EU – make every effort to continue to provide space on the 5G frequency band for the satellite ground station in Burum (coexistence) or – if there really is no other alternative – arrange for the relocation of Inmarsat’s satellite earth station to another, more suitable location in Europe.

On 17 December 2020, the State Secretary of Economic Affairs and Climate informed the Lower House in a parliamentary letter about the utilisation of the 3.5 GHz frequency band. In this letter, the State Secretary recognised that, on the one hand, the handling of maritime emergency, urgent and safety traffic by Inmarsat is essential communication. On the other hand, the secretary of state pointed out Inmarsat’s own responsibility for the continuity of its service.

With this, everything seems to have to give way in favour of the roll-out of 5G in the Netherlands, including international emergency and safety communication for sea-going vessels. The KVNR finds it disappointing that a technically feasible solution to allow 5G to coexist with current user Inmarsat as a newcomer is being ignored. In this way, Inmarsat and the shipping industry are left to fend for themselves, giving the impression that Inmarsat has to figure it out for itself. Even more so: Inmarsat should move out of the Netherlands as soon as possible, “to prevent that on 1 September 2022 Inmarsat would cause interference in the frequency for 5G mobile communications”.

On 15 January 2021, a number of parliamentary parties tabled written questions on this parliamentary letter. The KVNR’s concerns were included in these questions. On 26 February 2021, the State Secretary provided answers to the parliamentary questions raised. These answers did not reassure the KVNR.

In February 2021, the International Maritime Satellite Organisation (IMSO) brought the worrying situation in the Netherlands regarding Inmarsat and 5G to the attention of the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

On 30 June 2021, following an application by Inmarsat for a preliminary injunction, preliminary relief judge of the Rotterdam District Court suspended an amendment to the National Frequency Plan 2014. The preliminary injunction judge urged the State Secretary of Economic Affairs and Climate to quickly commence consultations with Inmarsat and other parties to reach a solution that would safeguard emergency, urgent and safety communications. If no solution was found, the preliminary relief judge considered it likely that the court would annul the contested decision in the main case. He therefore suspended the secretary of state’s decision until that ruling in the main case.

In December 2021, the council of ministers established an advisory committee.

On 12 May 2022, the advisory committee issued an opinion to the Minister of Economic Affairs. The committee recommended that Inmarsat relocate its dedicated services in the 3.5 GHz frequency band to a location in Greece that they have provided. The committee said the conclusions were supported by both the satellite company concerned and current mobile telecom providers.

On 8 July 2022, the Minister of Economy and Climate gave her appreciation of the advisory committee’s opinion. The bottom line is that the minister is simply following the advice. Inmarsat can continue to offer its NSV communications in the 3.5 GHz band via Burum until Inmarsat’s new ground station in Greece is commissioned. The date of 1 January 2024 is the target date for the commissioning of the new ground station. The minister indicated that it is important that at least the licence for Inmarsat has been obtained from the Greek authorities, and that this is irreversible. The minister also indicated that it is necessary to provide a safety net as a mitigating measure for the relocation. This is to cope with any unforeseen developments and circumstances Inmarsat may encounter,  in which case they would result in Inmarsat not being able to complete its move by 1 January 2024.

Until recently, a relocation of the satellite ground station from Burum to Greece seemed to be the solution. However, a stalemate appears to have arisen due to the term of the license given to Inmarsat by the Greek telecom authority. While the minister continues to act and has decided to cancel the frequency space that is currently designated in the 3.5 GHz band for satellite communications for the purpose of handling NSV traffic as of February 1, 2024.

The KVNR takes the position that this stalemate and this decision by the minister should not endanger maritime satellite communications and thus the safety of ships at sea.

State of play - 10 October 2023

On August 16, 2023, the Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate responded in a letter with a decision to the committee for Economic Affairs in the House of Representatives on the request to inform the committee about the state of affairs regarding Inmarsat and its discussions with the Greek government.

Inmarsat has had a license from the Greek telecom authorities since March 9, 2023, with a term until December 31, 2027. At the request of Inmarsat, this license can be re-granted for another five years, until December 31, 2032. The minister indicated that, according to Inmarsat, this permit does not provide sufficient security to relocate to Greece. Inmarsat has indicated that Inmarsat will only relocate its NSV services if it is certain that NSV traffic is guaranteed in Greece until 2032. Inmarsat has indicated in discussions that it believes this is not the case under the current circumstances.

Considering, on the one hand, the outcome of the discussions with Inmarsat and the stalemate that has arisen, and on the other hand, all other interests involved in the 3.5 GHz band, the minister is of the opinion that taking further decision-making, in the form of an amendment of the National Frequency Plan 2014 (NFP), is appropriate.

The lack of agreement cannot lead to the implementation of the rollout of 5G in the Netherlands having to be postponed indefinitely. More specifically, the minister intends to amend the NFP in such a way that the frequency space that is currently designated in the 3.5 GHz band for satellite communications for the purpose of handling NSV traffic will expire on 1 February 2024 and that on that date the national footnotes that now temporarily provide additional protection to guarantee the NSV services will also expire.