FCC seeks comment on latest LightSquared spectrum proposal

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The FCC is seeking comment on LightSquared's latest proposal to salvage its MSS L-band spectrum holdings and deploy an LTE network. LightSquared wants to share spectrum that is currently set aside for weather balloons used by the federal government. In exchange, LightSquared said it would permanently relinquish its 10 MHz of spectrum that is directly adjacent to the frequencies used by GPS receivers.

In a public notice, the FCC said petitions to deny LightSquared's proposal are due Dec. 17, oppositions are due Jan. 4 and reply comments are due Jan. 11. This is just the latest step in a long-running saga that has left LightSquared in bankruptcy protection fighting for its survival.

Earlier this fall LightSquared filed a new spectrum proposal that, if approved, would let it use some of its existing spectrum holdings along with the weather balloon spectrum. Under the proposal LightSquared would combine the 5 MHz it uses for satellite service at 1670-1675 MHz with frequencies in the 1675-1680 MHz band, currently used by National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration weather balloons. The company would share the NOAA spectrum rather than gain exclusive rights to it.

Such an arrangement would give the company 10 MHz for downlink LTE traffic. The company would employ another pair of bands totaling 20 MHz--which it uses for satellite services now--for LTE traffic going upstream from users' mobile devices. The total 30 MHz of spectrum would be 10 MHz less than LightSquared had originally intended to use for its LTE network.

LightSquared is licensed for MSS operation in portions of the 1525-1544 MHz and 1545-1559 MHz downlink bands and the 1626.5-1645.5 MHz and 1646.5-1660.5 MHz uplink bands. LightSquared's spectrum in the 1525-1559 MHz block sits below spectrum allocated for GPS. Most GPS devices are not designed to ignore out-of-band signals, such as those produced by LightSquared's proposed network, which led the FCC to cancel LightSquared's conditional waiver for terrestrial service earlier this year.

In January 2011 the FCC gave LightSquared the waiver to launch terrestrial service on its spectrum, contingent on LightSquared resolving GPS interference concerns. In February the FCC revoked the waiver and essentially shut down LightSquared's network plans after tests concluded that there was no practical way to mitigate GPS interference--a conclusion that LightSquared disputed. LightSquared filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May.

The new proposal comes as Globalstar, a small satellite firm, is asking the FCC to allow it to use its MSS spectrum for mobile broadband. Globalstar is licensed to provide mobile satellite service in the Big LEO band at 1610-1618.725 MHz (the "Lower Big LEO band" for uplink operations) and 2483.5-2500 MHz (the "Upper Big LEO band" for downlink operations). The company plans to partner with unnamed "terrestrial partners," or wireless carriers, to launch LTE service on its spectrum.

The FCC is also reportedly close to finalizing rules that would govern the terrestrial use of MSS spectrum, which Dish Network has been seeking since the spring as a prerequisite to using its 40 MHz of spectrum for mobile broadband. However, according to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal, the FCC's rules will also include interference protections for the PCS H Block, a move Dish has argued could threaten the viability of a portion of its spectrum.

For more:
- see this FCC filing
- see this Broadcasting & Cable article

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