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Dish, LightSquared place long 4G bets

Both companies want permission to offer both satellite and 4G services

By Stephen Lawson
September 9, 2011 03:42 PM ET

IDG News Service - LightSquared's and Dish Network's proposals to use satellite spectrum for 4G networks aren't necessarily competing for FCC approval, but either one could make the U.S. mobile broadband business more competitive if it clears significant hurdles.

While LightSquared lobbied for its network against fears of interference to GPS (Global Positioning System), Dish last month came up with a plan that is similar in some ways, though without the interference problems. Both face significant build-out costs and a cloudy profit outlook.

Both companies want permission to use the MSS (Mobile Satellite Services) band for land-based mobile data networks without being required to offer a hybrid service, with specialized devices, to all customers. For this, they need waivers from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, which originally set aside the MSS band for satellite services that would not use terrestrial networks except to get around the blocking of satellite signals by buildings in urban environments.

The waivers could help the FCC meet its goal of providing more radio spectrum for mobile broadband and making more high-speed Internet access available to residents of rural areas. The new LTE (Long-Term Evolution) entrants would also serve its goal of increasing competition in the mobile market.

Making satellite viable

With expensive handsets and service plans and relatively slow connections, satellite hasn't proved broadly popular as a consumer mobile technology. LightSquared and Dish both want to transform satellite companies into cellular operators while keeping satellite available as a separate or bundled service. LightSquared plans to only provide its services at wholesale to other carriers, while Dish is interested in selling its own consumer services.

The companies come at the proposition from dramatically different places. LightSquared was formed last year by Harbinger Capital Partners, which acquired satellite phone provider SkyTerra without any former telecommunications experience. Dish Network is a satellite TV provider founded in 1996 that also resells voice and data services and claims 14 million customers nationwide. It gained access to the 2GHz spectrum by acquiring the bankrupt satellite companies TerreStar and DBSD at auction earlier this year.

Dish plans to take advantage of its national sales, support and maintenance infrastructure to deliver its mobile service, and the 4G network it proposes is likely to become part of its broader set of offerings. Dish also plans to use a faster and more advanced technology than LightSquared's, called LTE Advanced, and it wouldn't have its network up and running until later. LightSquared plans to offer services next year, while LTE Advanced is not expected to be available until 2013.

Meanwhile, the frequencies Dish wants to operate on aren't used by GPS, so it avoids the interference issue. This has led some to predict that its plan could be a shoo-in at the FCC, possibly leading the agency to turn down LightSquared's controversial proposal and embrace Dish instead.

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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