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FCC seeks to kill LightSquared's LTE network plan

The agency is proposing to suspend LightSquared's LTE plan amid findings of GPS interference

By Stephen Lawson
February 14, 2012 09:05 PM ET

IDG News Service - The U.S. Federal Communications Commission wants to drop the conditional waiver that could have allowed LightSquared to operate an LTE network in frequencies near the GPS band, potentially killing the carrier's plan to offer a hybrid satellite and cellular mobile data network.

LightSquared wants to offer a mobile data service over both satellite and LTE (Long-Term Evolution), selling access to each network at wholesale to other carriers. The FCC issued a conditional waiver last year that would have let LightSquared operate the LTE network in its licensed frequencies, on the condition that it didn't cause interference with GPS. Subsequent tests showed interference between the two networks.

On Tuesday, after the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) told the FCC there was no solution to the interference at this time, the FCC proposed vacating its conditional waiver for LightSquared and suspending indefinitely the carrier's authority to operate a land-based network. The NTIA coordinates federal uses of spectrum.

The FCC plans to issue a public notice Wednesday seeking comment on its proposals and on the NTIA's conclusions.

LightSquared did not have an immediate comment on the FCC's proposals.

If adopted, those proposals would effectively kill LightSquared's LTE plan and hybrid business model. The company had bet on being granted permission to do what no other carrier has done, operating both a satellite network that would reach users throughout the country and a full-scale cellular network that would provide faster service in the most populated areas. The latter was built from the concept of Ancillary Terrestrial Component, which was intended originally as a limited land-based network to supplement satellite coverage in built-up urban areas shielded from satellite signals.

LightSquared has sought to build a full LTE network that could stand on its own and to sell service on that network separately from satellite services. That type of offering has much broader market potential than satellite broadband, changing LightSquared's business prospects. Last year, it reached a $9 billion, 15-year deal to use Sprint Nextel's planned Network Vision infrastructure for its services.

The carrier has claimed that its authority to run a full-scale terrestrial network goes back several years, while GPS manufacturers have said that plan didn't come into the picture until late 2010. When the FCC issued its conditional waiver in January 2011, it required tests to gauge interference with GPS. Those tests found interference between the two networks, but LightSquared and GPS manufacturers disagreed over the cause of the problem. GPS makers blamed the overwhelming power of LTE signals close to GPS receivers, while LightSquared said those receivers improperly looked into its own frequencies in addition to their own.

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