Satellite orbit dispute hits BSkyB’s digital TV launch

BSkyB’s launch of a digital satellite TV service this November has been thrown into doubt by a dispute about satellite orbits over Western Europe.

The station’s digital service is expected to be broadcast from 14 transponders on an Astra satellite, which is launching in the autumn. But rival satellite operator Eutelsat says it has a claim on the orbit which the new Astra satellite is destined to occupy.

Eutelsat has moved a satellite into the disputed orbit to protect the slot before launching its own new satellite later in the year.

Industry observers believe that Eutelsat – which is based in Paris – has the backing of the French government for its satellite plans.

Satellite hobbyists have picked up test signals from the Eutelsat in the disputed orbit. It is thought the company intends to use it to broadcast digital TV signals for its own clients.

The dispute has arisen because the International Telecommunications Union, which organises the allocation of orbits, granted both satellite companies orbits thinking they would broadcast different kinds of signals that would not interfere with each other.

Ironically BT, which is working with BSkyB on the potential for interactive digital TV services, owns nearly 20 per cent of Eutelsat.

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