From "Intelsat files for bankruptcy"

One of the primary catalysts for restructuring the balance sheet now is Intelsat’s desire to participate in the accelerated clearing of C-band spectrum under the Federal Communications Commission order in support of a build-out of 5G wireless infrastructure in the United States. To meet the FCC’s accelerated clearing deadlines and ultimately be eligible to receive 4.87 billion dollars of accelerated relocation payments, Intelsat needs to spend more than 1 billion dollars on clearing activities. These clearing activities must start immediately, long before costs begin to be reimbursed. 

What, specifically, does Intelsat have to do, and what is the relation to 5G wireless?


There is currently a push in the United States to expand mobile phone and data service. In particular, 5th generation (5G) uses part of the telecommunications C band. However, Intelsat already has a license for and is using part of the same band.

Washington, D.C. – October 28, 2019 – The C-Band Alliance (CBA) announced today that it will commit to clear 300 MHz of C-band spectrum to support fast 5G wireless deployment throughout the continental U.S. In an updated filing with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the CBA detailed that the 300 MHz of spectrum includes a 20-MHz guard band to protect existing satellite services from 5G interference.

Further enhancing its plan to clear spectrum quickly, the first tranche —- which clears spectrum within 18 months of an FCC order in 46 top metropolitan zones —- is now increased to 120 MHz, inclusive of the 20-MHz guard band. The second tranche of the remaining spectrum will be made available within 36 months from a CBA-led auction, providing cleared spectrum throughout the entire continental U.S.


The Federal Communications Commission has the authority to kick Intelsat off the desired frequencies, if it compensates Intelsat. The compensation is expected to be \$4.87 billion. However, Intelsat will not get this money until after they clear the spectrum. It will cost $1 billion to replace the satellites and upgrade the ground network:

To meet the FCC’s accelerated clearing deadlines and ultimately be eligible to receive \$4.87 billion of accelerated relocation payments, Intelsat needs to spend more than \$1 billion on clearing activities. These clearing activities must start immediately, long before costs begin to be reimbursed.


Intelsat has a lot of debt, and the only way to raise the money quickly is to declare bankruptcy. This is the chapter 11 "restructuring" type of bankruptcy, for a company which plans to stay in business, not the chapter 7 "liquidation" that ends a business.

The company's public-facing documents are vague about exactly how the \$1 billion will be spent:

  1. Will Intelsat continue to execute on its investment plans during the financial restructuring process?

While Intelsat moves as quickly as possible through this strategic restructuring process, it will continue to execute on its investment plans:

  • The Company has contracted for the next Intelsat Epic satellite (Intelsat 40e) to serve CONUS starting in 2022.
  • The Company plans to contract the next generation of Intelsat Epic software-defined satellites this year.
  • The Company is launching Galaxy 30 and proceeding with a second Mission Extension Vehicle before year end.
  • The Company is investing in ground and universal modem technology and pursuing other organic and inorganic disruptive technology opportunities.
  • The Company is contracting for new satellites to support the C-band clearing.


It's not clear from that last point whether the contractors have even been selected yet.

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  • $\begingroup$ That second quote is in the question. I'd like to see specifically what Intelsat has to do. Maybe a tl;dr or summary? $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble May 15 at 14:45
  • $\begingroup$ C-band is from 4-8GHz. 5G mid-band is 3.7-4.2 GHz. Therefore 4-4.2GHz + 20MHz safeguard spectrum will overlap between 5G licenses and FSS licenses and should be cleared by satellite operators till 30th September 2025. This not necessarily means that old satellites will be useful, C-band is divided in channels and many satellites use frequency hopping technique to reduce interference therefore avoiding transmission in this spectrum can be acheived, but the bandwidth=profit will be reduced. New satellites must be launched to compensate loss and ensure quality of services. $\endgroup$ – WOW 6EQUJ5 May 15 at 14:59
  • $\begingroup$ @WOW6EQUJ5: Neither Intelsat nor 5g use the entire C band, nor was the answer implying that. But the uses do overlap in frequencies. $\endgroup$ – DrSheldon May 15 at 15:05
  • $\begingroup$ @DrSheldon if you read my comment only 4-4.2GHz part of C band overlaps with 5G mid-band. The rest 4.2-8GHz doesnt overlap. $\endgroup$ – WOW 6EQUJ5 May 15 at 15:23

Spectrum to telecom is like real estate to commerce. To provide services you need real estates. Clearing the spectrum basically means to vacate from it. In this case, Intelset is trying to vacate C-band and then sell it to 5G operators. To achieve this they need to migrate existing C-band services to some new frequencies, but they don't quite have the cash to complete it.

The bulk of the cost seems to be updating 10 satellites.

FACT SHEET Expanding Flexible Use of the 3.7 to 4.2 GHz Band - GN Docket No. 18-122

204.The record contains estimates of the total clearing cost ranging from about \$3 billion to about \$6 billion. The C-Band Alliance estimates that the total cost to clear 300 megahertz in the lower 48 contiguous United States is \$2.8 billion, which it further divides into specific categories of costs, including satellite procurement and launch; TT&C Gateway sites and teleport ground equipment; earth station filter installation and antenna seeding; specific customer equipment; and compression and modulation equipment. 514 With respect to new satellites, the C-Band Alliance claims that SES and Intelsat need to procure and launch between eight to ten.515 For each satellite, it estimates a cost of about \$160 million, including the spacecraft, launcher, and ground equipment for each, for a total of \$1.6 billion assuming 10 satellites.516 SES estimates that capital costs of each satellite will be between \$150 and \$250 million.517 With respect to TT&C sites, C-Band Alliance argues that its members will consolidate into four sites, requiring the purchase and installation of three to four dozen new large antennas and possible procurement/lease of real state.518 I t estimates that the cost of this consolidation will be $300 million.

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  • $\begingroup$ Can you expand on whether these are existing or planned satellites? The "updating" part confuses me. I'm not sure how a design change to a future satellite constitutes an "update" and the existing satellites are in, you know, space. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble May 15 at 14:32
  • $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble "satellite procurement and launch" are mentioned so these are new satellites. Apparently some of their existing satellites needs to cease to operate to fully vacate this spectrum and they need new satellites that operates in some other frequencies in order to maintain their service coverage. $\endgroup$ – user3528438 May 15 at 14:40

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