The Dutch town of Burum is home to Inmarsat’s satellite ground station used for maritime satellite communications. The Dutch Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Policy wants the company to move to Greece to make way for 5G. Inmarsat, however, says its needs more assurances for this, while the Royal Association of Netherlands Shipowners (KVNR) fears for the continuance of the service.

Inmarsat uses the 3.5 GHz frequency band for maritime satellite communications, which includes emergency and safety messages for international shipping as part of the international Global Maritime Distress Safety System (GMDSS).

However, the Dutch Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy, Micky Adriaansens, has said this frequency needs to be cleared to make room for the 5G network for mobile communication. The Ministry has been in negotiations with Inmarsat to have the company move to Greece to be able to continue its services.

According to the Minister, Inmarsat is very welcome in Greece, however, due to current laws and regulations, the Greek telecoms authorities (EETT) can only give Inmarsat a licence for five years up to 2027, but with the prospect of a renewal for another five years. Inmarsat says this holds too much uncertainty for them and says it will only move if it has assurance that its emergency and safety messages services can be guaranteed in Greece until 2032.

‘There are risks that we would still have to relocate,’ Inmarsat director Gerard Luursema tells Dutch newspaper FD. ‘You can’t pass those on to the lives of seafarers.’

Also read: Court rules that Inmarsat satellites for ships’ emergency communications can stay for now

Withdrawal of Inmarsat’s licence

This has led to a stalemate and in turn, the Minister now plans to withdraw Inmarsat’s licence in the Netherlands from 1 February 2024. In a letter to Parliament dated 16 August, the Minister says that after talks with Greek authorities, she feels ‘that sufficient assurance has already been obtained that Inmarsat’s emergency and safety communications will be guaranteed when Inmarsat migrates to Greece.’

Adriaanses adds: ‘I have gone to great lengths to find a good solution for these communications in consultation with Inmarsat and I believe that the option now available to Inmarsat will allow them to move to Greece without further ado. I therefore regret that the negotiations have not yet resulted in Inmarsat being willing to take the final step and actually migrate to Greece.’

‘Given, on the one hand, the outcome of the talks with Inmarsat and the stalemate that has arisen and, on the other hand, all the other interests involved in the 3.5 GHz band, I believe that taking further decisions, in the form of an amendment to the National Frequency Plan 2014 (NFP), is appropriate,’ concludes Adriaansens. ‘The lack of agreement cannot mean that the implementation of the rollout of 5G in the Netherlands has to be postponed indefinitely. More specifically, I intend to amend the NFP such that the frequency space currently designated in the 3.5 GHz band for satellite communications for the purpose of handling maritime satellite communications will expire as of 1 February 2024.’

The Minister will now prepare a draft decision to be released for consultation as soon as possible.

Court case coming

Luursema tells FD he is surprised by Adriaansens’ decision and shows himself combative: ‘We are not going to accept this.’ Inmarsat is one of ten parties already in litigation against the proposed allocation of 5G frequencies*. ‘This will probably also play a role in that,’ adds Luursema. The case is expected to be handled by the court in October.

*In June, ten companies announced they were taking the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy to court over its 3.5 GHz frequency policy. It involves Inmarsat, Vodafone, T-Mobile Netherlands, KPN, Venus & Mercury, Greenet Netwerk, VSC Observation, Schiphol, the Port of Rotterdam Authority, and Europe Container Terminals.

The case was initiated by the Port of Rotterdam and Schiphol, after which the others joined. The companies feel they are given too little space in the National Frequency Plan of Minister Adriaansens, with Inmarsat also objecting to its having to move. With too little space on the 5G network, the companies feel further innovation and digitalisation will be made impossible. They also object to how that scarce space is distributed. This is done on a first-come, first-served basis.

KVNR: 5G network should not be a hindrance to ships

The KVNR is not happy with the Minister’s plans. In a response, the organisation states: ‘The rollout of the 5G network in the Netherlands must not jeopardise maritime satellite communications and thus the safety of ships at sea.’

The KVNR now calls on the Dutch government to do justice to the international SOLAS convention and EU implementation decisions 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 ground station in Burum (coexistence) or – if there really is no other way – arrange a relocation of Inmarsat’s satellite earth station to another, suitable location in Europe.

In addition, the KVNR calls on the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate to do justice to the EU Implementation Decision 2014/276/EU, which states 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.

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