5G communication

Priority: the 5G network must not be an obstacle for ships


"The rollout of the 5G network in the Netherlands must not cause any problems for maritime satellite communication, which would then affect the safety of ships at sea."

With the rollout of the 5G network in the Netherlands, the KVNR calls on the Dutch government to do justice to the International SOLAS Convention and the EU Implementing Decisions. The Netherlands must – as required to do so by the EU – first do everything in its power to continue to provide capacity on the 5G frequency band for the satellite station in Burum (coexistence). Alternatively – if there is no other option – the Inmarsat satellite earth station should be relocated to another suitable location in Europe.

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Niels van de Minkelis
Technical and Nautical Affairs

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Maritime satellite communication for, among other things, emergency, safety and otherwise urgent messages for international seagoing shipping as part of the international Global Maritime Distress Safety System (GMDSS) is currently coordinated via the satellite station in the town of Burum in the north of the Netherlands. This uses the 3.5 GHz frequency band.

Satellite communication is an essential aspect of safety of ships 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 by ships for, among other reasons, emergency and safety messages.

In the Netherlands, the satellite station in Burum (in the northern province of Friesland) receives signals from C-band satellites in the 3.5 GHz frequency band and directs them to onshore networks. The European Union has designated the 3.5 GHz band for the rollout of the 5G wireless broadband networks in Europe.

The challenge

The KVNR understands the importance of the 5G rollout. However, at the same time, the KVNR is concerned that the release of the 3.5 GHz frequency band without further measures will jeopardise the very satellite communications that are essential for safe shipping activities. This is especially in view of the development of autonomous sailing ships, where the 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 (undertaking by contracting governments), Regulations 5 (Provisions of radiocommunication services) states: “Each Contracting Government undertakes to make available, as it deems practical and necessary either individually or in co-operation with other Contracting Governments, appropriate shore-based facilities for space and terrestrial radiocommunication services…”

Argument 11 of the 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.”

The EU Implementing Decision 2014/276/EU states that “the existing deployment of services must not be affected” when an EU Member State grants authorizations to use the 3400-3800 MHz frequency band. Article 2 states: “Without prejudice to the protection and continued operation of other existing use in the band.”

Therefore, as a contracting party to the international SOLAS convention and as a leading IMO member state (IMO councilor) and as an EU member state, the Netherlands cannot jeopardize the adequate operation of the satellite station in Burum, the Netherlands.

What is the solution?

For the rollout the 5G network in the Netherlands and the adaption of the National Frequency Plan, the KVNR calls on the Dutch government to do justice to the EU Implementing Decision 2014/276/EU, which states that the existing use of the same frequency band as 5G must be protected and continued.

Maritime satellite communications for international shipping must not be jeopardised. The Netherlands must – as required to do so by the EU – first do everything in its power to continue to provide capacity on the 5G frequency band for the satellite station in Burum (coexistence). Alternatively – if there is no other option – the Inmarsat satellite station should be relocated to another suitable location in Europe

State of play - 2 March 2021

Dutch government State Secretary of Economic Affairs and Climate informed the Dutch House of Representatives in a letter to Parliament on 17 December 2020 about the division of the 3.5 GHz band. In this letter, the State Secretary acknowledges that, on the one hand, the handling of maritime emergency, urgent and safety-related traffic by Inmarsat is defined as essential communication. On the other hand, the State Secretary points out Inmarsat’s own responsibility for the continuity of its services.

As such, it seems that everything has to be put to one side to make way for the rollout of 5G in the Netherlands, including the matter of international emergency, urgent, and safety-related traffic for seagoing vessels. The KVNR finds it disappointing that a technically feasible solution that would allow 5G as a newcomer to coexist with the current user Inmarsat is being ignored.

In this way, Inmarsat and the shipping industry are missing out, with the impression that Inmarsat has to figure a solution out for itself. In particular, Inmarsat must relocate out of the Netherlands as soon as possible, “to prevent Inmarsat from causing interference in the band for 5G mobile communication on 1 September 2022”.

On 15 January 2021, several parliamentary parties submitted written questions about the State Secretary’s letter to parliament. The KVNR’s concerns have been included in these questions.

On 26 February 2021, the State Secretary gave answers to the questions posed by Parliament. These answers did not reassure the KVNR.

The worrying situation in the Netherlands regarding Inmarsat and 5G has since received international attention. In February 2021, the International Maritime Satellite Organization (IMSO) has brought the subject to the attention of the International Maritime Organization (IMO).