Innovative satphone service provider LightSquared, said Wednesday it has received approval from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to build its planned satellite-LTE network for nationwide mobile service (pdf).
LightSquared needed a waiver from the FCC (Scribd) because the company wanted to operate their service terrestrially – without the necessity of a satellite link – under the FCC’s Ancillary Terrestrial Component rule. ATC allows the satellite company to use their frequencies on the ground. The FCC intended ATC to be ancillary to Mobile Satellite Service – not a method to get around spectrum auctions.
The FCC ruling gave Lightsquared some slack – now the company is not required to offer satellite services. In granting the approval, the FCC also ordered LightSquared to show that their 40,000 terrestrial base stations won’t interfere with GPS. GPS World has more on the GPS interference controversy.
LightSquared’s wholesale service is aimed at companies like Apple, Google, and Best Buy, that may want to offer mobile devices without partnering with major carriers. Lightsquared hopes to build a nationwide, terrestrial LTE network, with the help of Nokia, using their 1.6 GHz (ATC) frequencies. LightSquared promises to deliver a nationwide network covering up to 100 million Americans by the end of 2012 and 260 million by 2016.
Inmarsat will make additional spectrum available to LightSquared at an annual cost of $115 million. LightSquared will have the use of up to 59 MHz of terrestrial and L-Band ATC spectrum over the continental United States and Canada to operate its nationwide integrated 4G-LTE and satellite network.
The company claims its L-band (1.6 GHz) spectrum for LTE is the largest contiguous block of spectrum below 2 GHz. But it has yet to explain where it’s getting the billions necessary to build out a nationwide network of cellular towers or who would supply their unique handsets for satellite handoff. Qualcomm says they have a chipset ready to go.
The company will run its network strictly on a wholesale basis. Mobile carriers or cable companies may resell access, not unlike virtual operators such as Virgin Mobile USA. LightSquared also had to address concerns about potential interference with GPS devices which are near their 1.6 GHz frequency band.
Meanwhile, ICO’s G-1 and SkyTerra’s TerreStar-1 both declared bankruptcy even before they began offering service in the 2 GHz S-band. In December, 2010, those station keeping satellites were joined by the new Lightsquared satellite, with the largest antenna of any commercial satellite – some 22 meters (72 feet) in diameter.
Lightsquared’s first satellite, SkyTerra-1, can have more than 500 spot beams working at the same time, compared with 200 for Inmarsat, the next most powerful communications satellite, which is also using the 1.6 GHz band. Lightsquared’s satellite service should be able to deliver 300 to 400 Kbps speeds to cellular-sized phones.
SkyTerra 1 will combine satellite and terrestrial technologies for use in standard handsets. Lightsquared is also talking up public safety use for regional or national “talk groups”.
Philip Falcone’s Harbinger Capital Partners fund, totaling roughly $6.4 billion, has largely staked its future on building the wireless network. The fund has invested roughly 40 percent of its assets in LightSquared.
The FCC’s decision allows Reston-based LightSquared to proceed on their ambitious plan. The company currently is more than $1 billion in debt and has a $7 billion commitment with Nokia Siemens Networks to build the ground-based LTE network.
What Lightsquared needs now is someone to buy into it. Mobile World Congress, next month in Barcelona, might be an appropriate venue to announce any partnerships. T-Mobile still hasn’t made a commitment to Clearwire for 2.6 GHz frequencies so that could be one possibility. But other partnerships seem possible – even likely.
Some observers believe these massive geosynch satellite systems deliver innovative, nationwide coverage. Others believe they are going nowhere.
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