September 01, 2011

Shedding New Light on LightSquared

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 2011 issue of Next Gen Mobility

LightSquared is under fire as some in the GPS industry have raised concerns that its planned 4G wireless network will cause interference with their technologies, potentially affecting such critical systems as air traffic control. In a recent interview with NGM, LightSquared Chief Marketing Officer Frank Boulben (News - Alert) said that the organizations raising these complaints primarily are device manufacturers that have had eight years to adjust their products to allow them to coexist peacefully with new technologies in the FCC (News - Alert)-approved ATC spectrum, but instead elected a strategy of “squatting” on LightSquared’s L-band spectrum.

When the FCC approved the ATC spectrum, which is satellite spectrum repurposed for terrestrial use, everybody knew that some tweaks would have to be made to avoid interference problems between the existing satellite and new ATC technologies, Boulben indicated. GPS receivers in smartphones from Apple, RIM and Samsung (News - Alert) already contain five- to 25-cent filters to prevent such interference, he added, but not everybody in the GPS device space has been as proactive in employing such interference avoidance technologies.

Boulben noted that LightSquared already has expended considerable effort to test for interference and amend its initial network build out plans in light of the GPS interference concerns, which came to light late last year. The company already has offered to reduce by 50 percent the theoretical power limit of its cell sites and to use the (1525-1535mHz) spectrum that it says is 99.5 percent free of interference concerns during the first phase of its build and the other spectrum in the second phase, so it has more time to find a fix for the more problematic spectrum. (The initial plan was to use the spectrum, which LightSquared is getting from Inmarsat (News - Alert), in the opposite order.)

On June 29 LightSquared presented the FCC with this revised plan. A day later the FCC issued a public notice for comment. Given the comment period is 30 days, and then there’s another 15 days for reply to the comments, this process should be completed by mid August; however, Boulben told NGM that LightSquared expects the FCC to issue an order on its amended plan in early September.

In the meantime, he says, LightSquared just raised some new funds; is busy signing on new wholesale customers; and expects its network build to play out as originally scheduled.

LightSquared continues to move forward on all these fronts because it believes that it has a strong legal standing to build the planned wholesale-only 4G LTE (News - Alert) network – especially given that the FCC in 2003 issued the ATC order with the full approval of the GPS Council; reconfirmed that order in 2005; and then in March 2010 issued details about specs for the LightSquared network, which again was done with the “full consent” of the GPS industry, Boulben told NGM.

Boulben also repeatedly mentioned that LightSquared has made a significant investment – something on the order of $3 billion – in spectrum, satellite launches (its network will use both satellite and terrestrial technology), and working with suppliers on network planning and infrastructure, but he stopped short of saying that the company will seek restitution for any losses that LightSquared investors might incur should the FCC red light its network build.

While we all wait for a FCC ruling on the matter, here’s the latest from LightSquared: The company this summer closed $265 million in new financing. And LightSquared continues signing on new customers, such as netTalk.

If all goes as planned, Boulben said, the first of its wholesale customers should be able to launch services based on its network next year. To enable that to happen, LightSquared expects to start to deploy its terrestrial equipment in the second half of this year. The FCC has set for LightSquared the following milestone requirements: 100 million POPS deployed by the end of 2012, 145 million POPS deployed by the end of 2013; and 260 million POPS deployed by the end of 2015.

Edited by Jennifer Russell

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