LightSquared: Will Persistence Pay Off?
By Paul Kruczkowski, Editor
Since it began its bid to become a major player in the broadband wireless 4G-LTE market back in 2010, LightSquared has faced a multitude of technical, regulatory and political setbacks. The biggest blow came earlier this year, when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rescinded its conditional waiver for terrestrial service, saying that LightSquared had failed to adequately resolve GPS interference issues. LightSquared subsequently reorganized under chapter 11 bankruptcy. Down but not out, the embattled company is continuing its quest to deploy a 4G-LTE network, now proposing to share government spectrum and regain use of part of its licensed spectrum below the GPS band.
In November, LightSquared filed an FCC Petition for Rulemaking to allocate the 1675-1680 MHz band for terrestrial mobile use. My review of the document revealed that this frequency band is currently used by important National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) meteorological satellite services and meteorological aids such as weather balloons. So for this part of its new plan, LightSquared would have to prove it can coexist with these services without interfering with them. LightSquared intends to use this 5 MHz in conjunction with the 1670-1675 MHz band it is already authorized to use, forming 10 MHz of contiguous spectrum for terrestrial downlink. Its plan for the uplink remains unchanged, since it still intends to use the 1627.5-1637.5 MHz and 1646.7-1656.7 MHz bands.
If LightSquared secures the use of this new spectrum, it is willing to permanently abandon its plans to use the 10 MHz it owns closest to the GPS band, 1545-1555 MHz, which the FCC has already blocked LightSquared from using. So, if the FCC allows it to share spectrum with NOAA, it would provide relief for LightSquared and a path forward for wireless broadband plan. Since LightSquared filed its petition, the FCC has issued a public notice inviting comment on the company’s request to modify its ancillary terrestrial component (ATC) authorization.
LightSquared also filed a separate FCC Petition for Rulemaking earlier this fall asking the FCC to develop operating rules that would, after some acceptable time period, allow terrestrial use of its licensed spectrum between 1526-1536 MHz as additional downlink bandwidth. LightSquared points out that obtaining access to 1675-1680 MHz not only allows 1545-1555 MHz to be used as a much-needed guard band to protect the GPS band, but it also provides sufficient coverage and capacity until 1526-1536 MHz is made available. In addition, LightSquared indicated that it could agree to additional measures like effective isotropically radiated power EIRP limits of 52 dBm per sector and geographical separation rules to protect operators of fixed wide area augmentation system WAAS and continuously operating reference station CORS . The big issue with this band is that LightSquared is counting on the FCC to mandate new stringent front-end selectivity standards for GPS receivers. This poses a long-term issue that requires legacy GPS units to be replaced with units with the new frontends, and who’s going to pick up the tab?
So here we go again. It could be a new lease on life for LightSquared, but it feels more like a double-down on the insurmountable technical, regulatory, and political problems the company hasn’t been able to overcome. LightSquared not only has to engineer a solution that doesn’t interfere with GPS receivers, it now has to coexist in a band that has hosts essential weather satellite communication, and that’s just the technical side of this endeavor. We can also expect fierce opposition on two fronts: relentless lobbying and political pressure. Although I believe that a service combining satellite and terrestrial service to maximize nationwide coverage is a great idea, the two services don’t cohabitate well in the frequency domain. We can only hope the lessons over the past year have led LightSquared to a cohesive plan, ultimately resulting in increased competition in the broadband wireless 4G-LTE market.
Will LightSquared succeed with its new plan? Do you think they will overcome the technical challenges to coexist in the weather satellite band? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.