back to article Viasat: We're going to sue Ofcom over EU-wide airline Wi-Fi network

Satellite broadband operator Viasat is telling the world it will sue UK comms watchgog Ofcom over recent changes to rival firm Inmarsat's licence allowing that company to build a vital part of a planned EU in-flight Wi-Fi network. "Inmarsat was not compliant with its licence," Rick Baldridge of Viasat told The Register last …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I Have to side with Viasat on this one

    It sounds, from what they are saying, the whole set up was rigged against them.

    1. Mark 110

      Re: I Have to side with Viasat on this one

      Not sure why you got downvoted. I agree.

    2. TheVogon

      Re: I Have to side with Viasat on this one

      "It sounds, from what they are saying, the whole set up was rigged against them."

      No the playing field was even. There was nothing to stop VIASAT doing the same. Inmarsat took a calculated risk that a more practical and flexible solution would eventually be permitted.

      1. The Indomitable Gall

        Re: I Have to side with Viasat on this one

        @TheVogon

        The playing field was only even in that Viasat could have ignored the terms of their license too, but that's not what we usually mean by a level playing field.

        Inmarsat gained commercial advantage by ignoring the regulatory process.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I Have to side with Viasat on this one

          Inmarsat gained commercial advantage by ignoring the regulatory process.

          They can only be said to have ignored the regulatory process if the satellite they built wasn't meeting the minimum spec as originally stated. AFAIK no one is saying that the satellite that Inmarsat built was under spec.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I Have to side with Viasat on this one

          "The playing field was only even in that Viasat could have ignored the terms of their license too, but that's not what we usually mean by a level playing field."

          Inmarsat didn't ignore the license. They were not providing services outside of the existing license prior to the change. All they did was put the required hardware in orbit. Inmarsat took a risk that they wouldn't be able to get a license for those services in the UK. However it was a pretty small risk bearing in mind they knew they were already required by EU law.

          imo VIASAT don't have a leg to stand on unless they cant get a similar license. It's OFCOMs job to decide how this sort of stuff should be licensed.

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Well he does have a point

    ""If I have to adhere to regulations and another does not, we don't know how to play in that area [..]"

    It is rather obvious that if you build something to international standards and the thing you need to talk to doesn't respect them, there will be issues.

    Beyond that, this is major industrial infrastructure stuff and negotiations on that level are completely beyond me. For starters, I have a hard time believing that someone would put up the money for a satellite and its launch without ensuring that it would function properly for its intended use. A satellite is not another sales point you set up over a week-end, it's a major investment and I cannot imagine that everything was not planned and vetted from A to Z.

    There was a major communication hiccup in all this, and someone is no doubt feeling very uncomfortable right now.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Well he does have a point

      "It is rather obvious that if you build something to international standards and the thing you need to talk to doesn't respect them, there will be issues."

      But it did respect the international (EU) standards. It was only the UK that was the issue - because OFCOM had yet to implement the full requirements of an EU directive. These things often take time.

  3. Mage Silver badge

    Ofcom

    Wasn't the problem that the REST of Europe had already agreed this and it was Ofcom that wasn't compliant?

    Ofcom rules only apply in the UK. This is a pan-European system.

    Ofcom, the regulator that supported Mobile operators to oppose roaming charge harmonisation.

    1. Richard Jones 1
      WTF?

      Re: Ofcom

      @Mage Agreed, The bit that makes me ponder was this quote 'Ofcom quietly tweaked Inmarsat's licence to authorise EAN work, building on previous legally binding EU Council decrees which left the British regulator with no real choice in the matter.'

      Surely if anyone has a desire for a punch up it should be with the EU since their judicial power forced the hand of regulators across Europe and Ofcom had no option. So is the threatened sueball really about Ofcom being prepared to correctly follow European law rather than do a quick duck and dive round the law and mess the whole thing up? No names no pack drill but perhaps due diligence could have been more 'diligent'?

  4. Brenda McViking

    My guess was that Inmarsats lawyers knew damn well Ofcom would have to change their licence being as it transpried EU law was to force their hand, and thus took a calculated risk. Viasat might have been blindsided but so what?

    Ofcom of course should be looking out for the interests of UK consumers and not private companies (albeit with scant evidence that they actually do). I'm not seeing downsides for the UK consumer here and thus conclude that it makes no difference to me if Viasat are a bit miffed, if they have a grieviance they're free to sue - from my perspective it doesn't make much sense to sue a regulator for changing a competitors licence from one which is potentially unlawful to one that is in compliance with EU law. The rules & regulations change, especially at the cutting edge of tech; history is littered with examples of this.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      >My guess was that Inmarsats lawyers knew damn well Ofcom would have to change their licence being as it transpried EU law was to force their hand, and thus took a calculated risk.

      My reading as well, although given satellite lead times, the question does arise as to whether Inmarsat took a calculated risk before the EU final decision.

      But I do question just what Viasat hope to achieve. Given Inmarsat is regulated by Ofcom, then strictly by building and launching a satellite outside of their Ofcom licence, they are in breach of UK regulation, so should be fined. However, Inmarsat can take Ofcom/UK government to court for failing to implement EU law and thus gain recompense. Now were in all of this do Viasat gain? The only avenue I can see is this could delay the launch of the Inmarsat service and so enable Viasat to catch up.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Sounds to me like...

        Viasat had lost their creativity and knowledge of the market and should look at their own bid assessment process.

        They also could have provided a "radical" option that would have required a licence tweak rather than not bidding at all.

        Agree with other posts saying the licences are often tweaked for new technical infrastructure, indeed if they were not, there would never be any new innovation in those spaces.

        Inmarsat must have had a reasonable guess that this would agreeable, and presumably had a plan B if it wasn't

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Given Inmarsat is regulated by Ofcom, then strictly by building and launching a satellite outside of their Ofcom licence, they are in breach of UK regulation,"

        Nope - building and launching it - or even using it outside the UK wouldn't be an issue. It would be selling / using those services in the UK that would breach the original license. Which they didn't do...

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          @AC - you are right and thus Inmarsat's "Plan B" was to either not turn on the functionality or not to offer those services to UK businesses...

  5. Commswonk

    An Alternative Viewpoint...

    ...a grandiose EU vision to bring in-flight Wi-Fi to airliners

    Oh <Deity> is there to be no escape whatsoever? Is this addiction to the internet a modern adult (?) version of thumb - sucking?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Is this addiction to the internet a modern adult (?) version of thumb - sucking?

      Thank goodness you were still able to send me this comment by letter. You might have sounded a bit silly had you said it on the internet somewhere. :-)

      1. Commswonk

        Re: Is this addiction to the internet a modern adult (?) version of thumb - sucking?

        A very good point deserving of an upvote. However, I broke away from the internet to have lunch, and will break away again to take the dog for a walk. My mobile phone will remain switched off (OK I'm retired!) in all probability.

        My concern is that there is a growing inability on the part of a growing number of people for whom detachment from the internet is emotionally intolerable.

        Ah the blessings of being grumpy...

    2. NonSSL-Login
      Big Brother

      Re: An Alternative Viewpoint...

      Rather than making sure people have internet whilst flying, I would guess puppet masters behind the scene are trying to get a singular point of presence or company they can tap in to keep their 5 eyes busy, rather than have a mishmash of points to monitor.

  6. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Is it really necessary to mandate EU-wide aeroplane Wi-Fi?

    If Norwegian, Lufthansa, Aer Lingus, BA, or TAP manage to sell more seats because of it, good for them (they could also sell fewer).

    If the rest want to have on board WiFi, they can add it themselves.

    1. Mark 110

      Re: Is it really necessary to mandate EU-wide aeroplane Wi-Fi?

      Don't think its mandated. They are just building a Europe wide platform people can use if they want to. I'm sure airlines are allowed to roll their own if they wish. (Haven't checked though - bureaucrats can be daft sometimes)

  7. Donn Bly

    To say they thought it was "just another S-Band service" means that Viasat didn't really understand the bid.

    Viasat seems to be targeting the "Air to Ground" component of EAN and frequency use. Perhaps they thought that the service was going to be completely satellite based - but if so they haven't been paying attention to technology and the industry in general.

    Inmarsat may or may not have been working on a product that they weren't licensed to deliver in the UK - but they were obviously permitted to do development outside of the UK in the EU. Once they had EU permission and developed a product, getting their UK licensed modified so that they could deliver their already EU-permitted service was almost perfunctory.

  8. Bronek Kozicki

    Satellite

    I know little on the subject but I always assumed that building and launching satellite is very expensive. I also assumed that satellites are tightly controlled by the owner, both for orbit parameters and onboard software. In the light of which, I guess Inmarsat simply chose to take the risk and equip it with antennas it could not use at the time of launch, assuming it would enable them later when legally allowed. I do not see a compliance issue (assuming nothing was transmitted in S-band without the licence), just simple business risk-taking which seems to have paid off.

  9. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    Was it "not compliant"?

    My reading is that Inmarsat built a satellite that was compliant with their original licence but *also* had additional features that could be enabled if and when an additional licence was granted (which they believed was inevitable). This is known as forward planning. Had the new licence not been agreed, I assume that the additional functions that could not have been used would not have represented a huge cost to Inmarsat. It would have been a bit silly to build a satellite that was inherently non-compliant because had things gone wrong they would have been ordered to turn it off completely.

  10. 404

    "Consumers will suffer."

    Please. Over ten years with Viasat/Exede/Hughsnet and it's never gotten less expensive.

    $90.90/month for 15GB, I can be home or be out of the country for a month and I'm in violation of their Fair Access Policy by mid-month. I'm Fapped now, which reduces your speed to 56k modem speeds (fucking liars, I started with 14.4k modems and KNOW what 56k feels/looks like - 3.3kb/sec at best) and randomly flags a bookmark with a generic FAP warning (lol).

    I've been on an AT&T DSL waiting list since 2007... I'm moving soon as the house sells.

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