LightSquared's Bid to Share Spectrum For Broadband Network Gets Mixed Reviews

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By Paul Barbagallo  

LightSquared Inc.'s petition to the Federal Communications Commission for a rulemaking to allow a 5-megahertz block of spectrum to be used by the company on a shared basis for providing mobile broadband services is receiving mixed reviews in comments filed with the agency.

So far, concerned parties have expressed either measured support for LightSquared's proposal or no official position at all.

LightSquared is pushing for FCC approval to share 5 MHz of spectrum currently allocated for meteorological satellite service (1675-1680 MHz) and adjacent to a 5-MHz block that the company is already licensed to use (1670-1675 MHz). The two swaths of 5 MHz would give the company 10 MHz needed to deploy a network capable of offering mobile broadband services to as many as 260 million people on a wholesale basis throughout the United States.

As part of the petition, LightSquared would agree to permanently relinquish its “terrestrial-usage” rights for the so-called “upper” 10 MHz of downlink frequencies (1545-1555 MHz), which are closest to global positioning systems operations and pose the greatest interference concerns.

LightSquared's latest bid is seen by industry observers as a last chance for the company to salvage its plans to create a broadband network that would serve a large swath of the United States and compete with the likes of Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc., the No. 1 and No. 2 carriers in the United States.

GPS users had lobbied the FCC to block the company's network, fearing it would interfere with their devices, and in February, the agency moved to revoke LightSquared's conditional waiver to begin construction.

Economic Potential Touted.

“If LightSquared is unable to deploy its network, major economic and consumer benefits will be lost,” wrote Thomas Lenard, president and senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute, in a comments filed Dec. 17. “LightSquared's proposed wireless broadband network will produce an estimated $12 billion in value to the economy and potentially 10 times that amount--$120 billion--in benefits to consumers.”

“The continued rapid growth of mobile data--which has doubled each year from 2008-2011--depends on the availability of spectrum operating in a flexibly licensed, market-based regime that encourages the large investments needed for the build-out of nationwide networks,” he added. “LightSquared has gone to great lengths to accommodate the GPS community and other users, while searching for an alternative that would finally allow the construction of a nationwide network.”

Of potential competitors to LightSquared, T-Mobile USA Inc. voiced “general support” for making additional spectrum available for mobile broadband services, but urged the commission to take no action that would jeopardize the potential use of the 1695-1710 MHz block of government-held spectrum, which the National Telecommunications and Information Administration has identified for possible use by wireless carriers, like T-Mobile.

Lockheed Martin, the only commission licensee of space stations operating in the 1559-1610 MHz spectrum band, said in comments filed Dec. 12 that the FCC should not consider making an allocation for non-federal mobile service in the 1675-1680 MHz band as a “substitution” for the “technically-flawed proposal” for high-powered terrestrial use of the 1545-1555 MHz band. The company noted that LightSquared's petition does not include a technical showing on the threshold condition of compatibility with existing services and uses in the 1675-1680 MHz band.

GPS Group Urges Comprehensive Analysis.

The Coalition to Save Our GPS, a group that includes FedEx Corp., United Parcel Service Inc., GPS-unit makers Trimble and Garmin Ltd., and the Air Transport Association with members Delta Air Lines and American Airlines, said the FCC should address LightSquared's potential use of the 1675-1680 MHz band only as part of an overall resolution of the company's future plans to provide terrestrial mobile services.

“LightSquared's proposed use of the 1675-1680 MHz band is in partial response to the evidence that it cannot use the 1545-1555 MHz band,” the group wrote in comments filed Dec. 12. “However, its [petition] represents a comprehensive plan of how LightSquared may be able to provide terrestrial services in the future.”

The coalition took no position on the potential use of the 1675-1680 MHz band for terrestrial operations generally, but said the FCC should “comprehensively address the issues.”

Public review of LightSquared's petition comes as both the FCC and the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration are actively considering spectrum-sharing arrangements as one way for wireless carriers to accommodate the increasing consumer demand for smartphones and tablets, which require more spectrum to carry their data transmissions--significantly more than what is needed to carry cellular calls.


Comments on LightSquared's petition in FCC Rulemaking 11681 can be found at http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/comment_search/input?z=8rslp.