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Satellite Radio in Europe Gains Another Competitor?

WorldSpace may have competition in Europe.

WorldSpace may have competition in Europe.

The European Space Agency and nine partners just showed a prototype of an auto satellite radio system for Europe at Space Expo in the Netherlands.

Rather than using terrestrial repeaters to bolster signal reception in tunnels and urban canyons, ESA says its team has designed a flat, mobile antenna built into a car roof. The antenna receives Ku frequency band signals from existing satellites, saving ESA from the cost of launching new satellites, it says.

The mobile multimedia system uses a cache memory – a hard disk or its solid-state equivalent to prevent loss of signal. Received signals are stored and can be played back later.

ESA and its partners worked on the system for more than three years. A big challenge was that the satellites used by the system were designed to broadcast television signals to large, fixed dish antennas. For use in cars, they needed a new approach to achieve an antenna that they say can be easily built in by car manufacturers.

ESA’s partners in the project include SES Astra, BMW, Deutsche Zentrum für Luft und Raumfahrt, Dornier Consulting, Deutsche Welle, Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, Institut für Rundfunktechnik, Technische Universität Braunschweig, and TriaGnoSys.

One important distinction to note is that XM and Sirius are transmitting on S-band and using terrestrial repeaters as a signal back up. Ku-band transmission may be an issue, sources tell me, for two reasons: there is no industry standard and geostationary satellites, the ones XM uses, can have poor coverage in Europe.

Consider the difference between the signal coverage in Canada between XM and Sirius.

For Canada, XM’s signal sits relatively close to the horizon, while Sirius’ signal is coming in from almost overhead. XM needed to deploy terrestrial repeaters in Canada, Sirius did not.

In a similar vein, if you plan European coverage with satellites, most of Europe is north of the 40th parallel, which also runs through Philly. The bulk of the Euro population is above the 45th parallel, which is north of Green Bay, Wis. So a system that uses geostationary satellites in Europe would need to be supplemented with repeaters, sources believe.

WorldSpace meanwhile, has its eyes set on Italy this year. The satcaster told me the Italian government has given them the authority to offer service in that country and the satcaster is targeting late this year to early next for that launch.

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