Free cellular spectrum behind LightSquared controversy

Free cellular spectrum behind LightSquared controversy

While AT&T, Verizon and other cellular communications providers have spent billions of dollars acquiring the radio spectrum for their national networks, the radio spectrum for the proposed LightSquared hybrid land and satellite-based communications system will be free of charge, courtesy of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The free use of the land-based radio spectrum was granted in conjunction with a tentative license from FCC in January. The free spectrum was based on a 2003 FCC ruling that allowed a LightSquared predecessor company to use its satellite radio spectrum for land-based wireless services as long as it provides devices that can access both land and satellite systems. In addition, the land-based network must remain “ancillary” to its satellite services, according to the 2003 FCC ruling.

While LightSquared appears to have successfully argued that its proposed 40,000-transmitter land-based system is ancillary to its satellite system, the footprint of the land-based network will be national in scope, according to Ken Rehbehn, an analyst for the Yankee Group, which tracks global connectivity trends.

“It is definitely getting into the realm of a national network,” says Rehbehn. “Those towers would be up [in urban areas and] along the interstates [in rural areas]. That is a pretty significant footprint.”

The GPS industry has argued that the land-based LightSquared network will interfere with GPS navigation devices. A report from John Deere to the FCC in late May said that deploying the LightSquared network “will create massive interference” for Deere’s StarFire system, as well as other similar systems, “risking serious harm to the U.S. agriculture industry.”

When it granted the tentative license, the FCC charged LightSquared to work with the GPS industry to resolve signal interference questions. A report on a joint industry-LightSquared working group is due to the FCC on July 1.



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