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Satellite carrier may open new Wi-Fi channel for US

By Stephen Lawson
November 29, 2012 09:04 AM ET

Globalstar has several ideas for using Channel 14 and is open to more, but all would involve some degree of control. The company proposes to offer the extra channel in conjunction with what it calls a TLPS (terrestrial low-power service). Part of its plan for the TLPS is to set up about 20,000 special access points in hospitals and public and nonprofit schools.

The company hasn't yet decided what else the TLPS would include. Certain approved devices might be able to use TLPS access points whenever they are nearby, with no special effort by the user, Ponder said. Another possible model might be to charge a one-time activation fee for downloading the necessary firmware, according to Ponder.

The company could also offer the extra channel as an added feature for a specific manufacturer or service provider, or to partner with a carrier for an exclusive service at busy events and locations, according to Globalstar. For example, customers of a certain carrier might get exclusive access to Channel 14 at a football game or in an airport, Ponder said.

Globalstar hasn't spelled out its full strategy, but it says the plan has two phases. The TLPS proposal is the first part of its plan and the company expects to get approval for that next year. The second phase, in which it wants approval to use its spectrum for LTE, would unfold later. "It will probably take a little bit longer just because there are more interested parties that are going to be involved," Ponder said. The LTE network would also use another satellite band controlled by Globalstar, and the company would use a partner to build and operate it.

Three services at once

The company's 2400MHz frequencies might eventually host satellite, Wi-Fi and LTE services, with LTE and Wi-Fi offered in different areas depending on the need, Ponder said.

"Ultimately, the market would determine the highest and best use for that spectrum," Ponder said. "If there is an enormous number of people ... who fall in love with our TLPS and can't live without it, then of course I think that ... should ultimately dictate what the outcome is," he said.

An exclusive network with Channel 14 might be very attractive to mobile operators, said analyst Phil Marshall of Tolaga Research.

"It's more spectrum that can be used for mobile broadband and you will have greater control over it, as well as the advantage of it being at 2.4GHz," which is compatible with existing silicon, Marshall said.

However, despite that link to existing chips, orchestrating a change of this magnitude across enough Wi-Fi networks, phones and tablets might be a challenge, analysts said. Helping subscribers upgrade their current devices might be complicated and expensive for the service provider, and relying on users to buy new devices made with the feature would take time.

"It doesn't seem like a good idea to wait for an upgrade cycle in phones ... in order to build a huge base of subscribers," Farpoint's Mathias said. Meanwhile, many schools, stadiums and other venues already have Wi-Fi networks and may not want another one, because of management requirements and other issues, he said.

Those challenges exist amid an already competitive market for hotspots, with carriers such as AT&T and T-Mobile and third parties such as Boingo offering thousands of networks in public places. "If you want access to a public Wi-Fi service, you've got a lot of them to choose from already," Mathias said.

The plan is likely to draw opposition from some existing mobile operators, even if it gives one of them a chance to offer an exclusive wireless LAN channel, Farpoint's Mathias said.

"When you have a service, nobody wants to see that service expanded by someone else," Mathias said. At the FCC, "this is not a slam dunk by any stretch of the imagination," he said.

Globalstar has high hopes for approval, especially for the TLPS part of its plan. Along with the 20,000 free hotspots, it plans to offer free access to its satellite-based services in federal disaster areas after natural or man-made disasters.

"Near term, there's just very little standing in the FCC's way to allowing us to provide the service," Ponder said.

However, the company is seeking a full FCC rulemaking including periods for public comment, and it's not expecting overnight success.

"We look at this as a multi-month process," Ponder said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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