A war of words has erupted between Viasat and Inmarsat after a Belgium court annulled Inmarsat’s Complementary Ground Component (CGC) authorisation to operate its European Aviation Network (EAN) for inflight connectivity in the country.
An Inmarsat spokesperson said the decision by the Belgian judge was made purely on procedural grounds.
“It was due to the Belgian regulator not confirming its decision that the complementary ground network complies with certain conditions within the EC framework,” he said. “EAN is still on track to launch”.
Viasat said that the court concluded last week that the Belgian telecommunications regulator, BIPT, did not conduct the required analysis under either Belgium or EU law to determine whether what Inmarsat claims are legally-permissible CGCs.
An Inmarsat spokeperson said: “The complementary ground network does comply with these conditions and this has been confirmed by other regulators including Ofcom in the UK and ARCEP in France.
“We are confident that the regulator will address the procedural issues raised and will expedite the reissuance of the authorisation. The European Aviation Network remains on track.”
Doug Abts, Vice President, Global Mobility at Viasat, responded: “This ruling adds another major connectivity dead-zone to the EAN in a highly-trafficked EU air corridor, as the Irish regulator, ComReg, has publicly stated an investigation of the EAN is ongoing and has yet to issue a CGC license to Inmarsat.
“We applaud Belgium and those member states that have taken a rational look at the legality of the EAN. Upholding the law is critical to maintaining fairness and ensuring robust competition that will result in the best possible consumer experience.
“We suspect Inmarsat may try to minimise the Belgium Market Court’s decision; however, we feel this ruling is an indication that stand-alone terrestrial use of the S-band simply is not what the European legislature intended.
“This ruling is an important step in a long process towards obtaining final clarity regarding the legality of the EAN. We stand firm in our position that the EAN does not comply with various EU and Member State laws and believe other courts will follow the ruling and require a thorough evaluation of whether EAN complies with the law.”
Wladimir Bocquet, Director of Spectrum Management Policy at Eutelsat, added: “This decision confirms our understanding that the service must be predominantly delivered through a satellite component.”
Inmarsat is adamant that the launch of EAN remains on schedule. Deutsche Telekom and Inmarsat, together with technology partner Nokia, announced the completion of the ground network component of the LTE-based EAN in February 2018.
The combined complementary air-to-ground and satellite system will provide seamless inflight connectivity over land and water, with a more than 75 Mbit/s connection speed to the aircraft.
Around 300 base stations across all 28 member states of the European Union, plus Switzerland and Norway, form the ground network for the EAN. The completion of the network follows Inmarsat’s successful launch of its EAN satellite last summer, which has since been extensively tested in orbit and has been fully operational since September 2017.
EAN is a hybrid LTE (ATG) and S-band satellite solution. Inmarsat says the combined complementary air-to-ground and satellite system will provide seamless connectivity over land and water.
Viasat, Eutelsat and Panasonic had previously lodged a complaint with the European Court of Justice seeking an injunction on the proposed EAN service.
They say Inmarsat is violating the terms of its license by “passing off a terrestrial network as a satellite system”.
But Inmarsat said the claim lodged by Viasat Inc. against the European Commission was “based on arguments previously put forward to the European Commission and national regulators without success”.
At last September’s Apex Expo in Long Beach, California, Frederik van Essen, Inmarsat Aviation’s Senior Vice President, Strategy and Business Development, said Inmarsat saw no merit in their arguments. “We are confident that it will go nowhere,” he said.
Van Essen added: “They presented similar arguments to OfCom during last year’s UK consultation
“We consider Viasat’s claims to be entirely without merit and fundamentally misconceived. Their strategy has had no impact on our preparations and we remain on course to commence commercial services with our launch customer in the first half of 2018.”
Inmarsat said then the system was still on target for the first passengers to use the service by the end of the first half of 2018.
The launch customer is International Airlines Group (IAG), the parent company of Aer Lingus, British Airways, Iberia and Vueling.