Lightsquared faces setback as Government agencies call for interference review

Hopeful US market debutante Lightsquared, which is aiming to deploy a combination of LTE and Satellite wireless services on a purely wholesale basis, faces an obstacle to deployment as a number of US governmental agencies have aired concerns that the modification of its licence to allow for terrestrial as well as satellite offerings will cause interference with existing services.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), part of the US Department of Commerce, wrote to communications regulator the FCC this week voicing its own concerns, along with those of “several Federal agencies” including the Department of Defense, Transportation and Homeland Security (DoD). Danny Price, director of Spectrum and Communication Policy  at the DoD wrote to the NTIA in December, leading to the NTIA communication this week.

Lawrence Strickling, head of the NTIA, wrote: “In our view, this proposal raises significant interference concerns that warrant full evaluation as part of the FCC’s consideration of Lightsquared’s application to ensure that Lightsquared services do not adversely impact GPS and Global Navigation Satellite System receivers, maritime and aeronautical emergency communication systems, and Inmarsat receivers used by the Federal agencies.

The modification of the licence is essential to Lightsquared, headed up by former Orange chief Sanjiv Ahuja and funded by Philip Falcone’s hedge fund Harbinger Investments, as it is the terrestrial offering that represents the real opportunity for the newcomer. Questions have been raised over the commercial viability of the satellite element of Lightsquared’s offering.

Strickling’s letter hints at the concern that Lightsquared may not be genuinely focused on fully exploiting its satellite capability—despite the firm having already launched a satellite in accordance with its licence terms.

“Although Lightsquared intends to make dual-mode handsets available to its wholesale customers, it has not made clear whether it will require its wholesale customers to offer dual-mode handsets to their end users,” Strickling wrote. If this requirement is not passed on, he suggested, the carrier’s wholesale customers could opt to resell only cellular services. “The large increase in terrestrial usage that is expected to result form Lightsquared’s new business model creates a new and mroe challenging interference environment that must be addressed satisfactorily,” wrote Strickling.

Read our interview with Martin Harriman, EVP of Ecosystem Development and Satellite Services.

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