OneWeb has become the first to bring its Ku- and Ka-bands spectrum rights aboard its orbiting internet satellites into use, compelling other satellite operators such as SpaceX and Blue Origin to design their systems around its spectrum. This also means OneWeb has met the first-come-first served rules set by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

OneWeb is a 12 year-old American startup based in London that aims to provide internet access to “everyone, everywhere.” On Feb. 27, OneWeb successfully launched its first six satellites into low Earth orbit (LEO).

OneWeb says being the first to file its claim and have it validated by the ITU will also mean signals from other operators such as SpaceX with its Starlink megaconstellation must not interfere with its own. ITU rules oblige latecomers (in this case, SpaceX and Blue Origin) to preserve the quality of services offered by an incumbent, in this case OneWeb.

OneWeb said its six satellites have been transmitting at the designated frequencies in the correct orbit for more than 90 days. This means OneWeb has met the requirements to secure spectrum bands over which it has priority rights under ITU rules. It also means OneWeb has met the “use-it-or-lose-it” spectrum conditions set by the ITU.

“That could mean a longer road to the finish line for others than it is for us,” said Ruth Pritchard-Kelly, OneWeb’s vice president of regulation.

OneWeb will now have access to more than 6 GHz of spectrum. It plans to launch a commercial internet service with full global coverage by 2021.

The first phase of OneWeb’s satellite project will see it first deploy 650 satellites in LEO to provide global coverage. The company will eventually deploy 1,980 satellites to provide additional capacity.

The Office of Communications (Ofcom), the U.K. regulatory and competition authority for the broadcasting, telecommunications and postal industries, will now ask the ITU to register OneWeb’s priority claim on the bandwidth.

ITU, however, said the first-come-first-served system doesn’t mean an operator “obtains any particular priority over another.”

“It only serves to identify the systems with which a newcomer has to coordinate. The legal rights are only derived from the final registration by the ITU on completion of coordination and notification of bringing into use.”

SpaceX, however, took issue with OneWeb’s claim to priority. It pointed out “OneWeb does not seem to understand how the ITU works.”

It clarified ITU spectrum filings don’t grant a right to exclude others from the marketplace, as OneWeb seems to suggest. The company also noted the United States expressly rejects this concept of “priority” rights.

“OneWeb’s assertions run counter to the role of the ITU and virtually every country’s goal of trying to encourage sharing of spectrum,” said SpaceX in a statement.

SpaceX argues a clearer statement of the ITU’s intent as regards the date of priority was made in 2015 in a Report by the Director of the ITU’s Radiocommunication Bureau (BR) that provided guidance to the World Radiocommunication Conference.

This guidance states "the coordination process is a two way process and no administration obtains any particular priority as a result of being the first to start either the advance publication phase or the request for coordination procedure."

one web A ground antenna made by Intellian for the OneWeb space internet provider is seen at Satellite2019 in Washington, DC, on May 8, 2019. Photo: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images