Report: Amazon testing wireless network using Globalstar's spectrum

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Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) conducted tests of a wireless network using spectrum controlled by satellite operator Globalstar for what could be a new broadband service and way for Amazon to connect its Kindle devices and other gadgets to the Internet, according to a Bloomberg report.

The report, which cited unnamed sources familiar with the matter, said that the trial was in the vicinity of Amazon's Lab126 research facilities in Cupertino, Calif., where Amazon designs its Kindle devices, including Kindle Fire tablets. It's unclear if the tests are still ongoing, the report added. Amazon and Globalstar declined to comment, according to Bloomberg.

The tests were actually first noticed in July by TMF Associates analyst Tim Farrar, who noted that, according to locations filed as part of Globalstar's experimental license with the FCC, one of the tests occurred at Amazon's Lab126 location. A July 1 FCC filing made by Globalstar investor and partner Jarvinian Wireless Application Fund noted that Globalstar was engaged in testing "to help a major technology company assess the significant performance benefits of TLPS for a transformative consumer broadband application." 

"Given that Amazon's becoming a big player in video, they could look into investing into forms of connectivity," wireless industry analyst Chetan Sharma noted to Bloomberg.

The choice of Globalstar as a potential partner is intriguing since the satellite company is trying to repurpose its satellite spectrum for terrestrial use to launch a service it claims will provide faster throughput speeds than traditional Wi-Fi networks.

Indeed, Amazon could be planning to pair the network with its reported smartphone. Amazon is developing a high-end 3D smartphone as part of a wider push into mobile and hardware, according to a May Wall Street Journal report. The report, which cited unnamed sources familiar with the projects, said Amazon is working on a lineup of devices, including two smartphones and an "audio-only streaming device."

Meanwhile, Globalstar is hoping to make progress with the FCC on its spectrum plans. The company 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 also has plans to partner with unnamed "terrestrial partners," or wireless carriers, to launch LTE service on its spectrum.

According to FCC filings, Globalstar has proposed "both a long-term plan to utilize its full Big LEO spectrum" for an FDD-LTE network, as well as "a completely separate near-term plan to utilize only the Upper Big LEO band at 2483.5-2495 MHz for an innovative terrestrial low-power service ("TLPS") offering. In the long run, by deploying an optimal mix of LTE and TLPS facilities in the Big LEO band, Globalstar will achieve a full and intensive terrestrial utilization of its spectrum."

Globalstar CEO James Monroe said on Aug. 13 during the company's second-quarter earnings conference call that the company is "well positioned in the ongoing process with the FCC as we seek terrestrial authority for our spectrum." He said the company met with Acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn in late June.

"We are unaware of any obstacle preventing the FCC from moving forward with issuing a notice of proposed rulemaking," Monroe said, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript. "We believe our petition has been favorably received by the FCC and by Chairwoman Clyburn and look forward to the FCC taking action in the near future."

In Globalstar's initial tests in Cambridge, Mass., even in a spectrally congested indoor urban environment, usable connections were established at three to five times the distance of public Wi-Fi, John Dooley, Jarvinian' s managing partner, said in June. "More critically, very high-speed connections were maintained much more uniformly and over significantly longer distances," he added.

For more:
- see this Bloomberg article
- see this The Verge article
- see this TMF Associates blog post 

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Correction, Aug. 26, 2013: This article incorrectly stated that TMF Associates analyst Tim Farrar had learned of Globalstar's testing locations from a July 1 FCC filing. He learned of them from Globalstar's experimental license.