4G-satellite network planned for U.S. next year

An investment company has hired Nokia Siemens Networks to build a hybrid 4G-satellite mobile network, called LightSquared, across the U.S. to go live next year.

Harbinger Capital Partners, which earlier this year acquired satellite phone service provider SkyTerra, announced on Tuesday it will pay NSN more than $7 billion over eight years to design, build and operate the network. LightSquared will reach 92% of the U.S. population by 2015, the company said. It expects a commercial launch in the second half of 2011, according to the LightSquared website.

Harbinger will not offer a service on the LightSquared network itself but will sell access to it on a wholesale basis, allowing for a variety of service providers that could include mobile carriers, cable operators, device makers, retailers and content creators. Those customers could offer any combination of 4G, satellite or both.

The rapidly growing demand for mobile broadband makes a new 4G network seem promising, especially if it can reach poorly served rural areas via satellite. But Harbinger's fully wholesale business model has never been tested on a national scale in the U.S., nor has the concept of combined cellular and satellite coverage.

Harbinger was founded in 2001 by Philip Falcone, described in the 2009 Forbes list of billionaires as a former junk-bond trader now worth $2.3 billion. Harbinger has contributed $2.9 billion of assets to the project and announced additional debt and equity financing of up to $1.75 billion. Sanjay Ahuja, former CEO of Orange Group, will lead the development and rollout of the network as chairman and CEO.

The deal announced Tuesday is still subject to approval by the boards of both NSN and LightSquared. NSN announced Monday it would acquire most of the assets of Motorola's cellular infrastructure business for approximately $1.2 billion.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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