Globalstar's TLPS promises private, licensed Wi-Fi

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When Globalstar submitted a petition last month asking the FCC to allow it to use its MSS spectrum for mobile broadband, the big focus was on its plan to deploy FDD-LTE. However, the company also proposed a terrestrial low-power service ("TLPS")  to be deployed before LTE, that offers wireless carriers access to what is essentially a private, licensed Wi-Fi service.

According to John Dooley, managing director at Jarvinian, a research and investment firm that has been working with Globalstar for the past two years, such an offering would add 22 MHz of uncluttered spectrum to the 802.11 Wi-Fi standard. Dooley said Jarvinian and Globalstar approached the FCC about such a plan in the first quarter of this year and received an enthusiastic response.

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.

Under Globalstar's plan, the TLPS network will operate in the 2.4 GHz band and also make use of adjacent unlicensed industrial, scientific and medical ("ISM") spectrum at 2473-2483.5 MHz. Dooley said such spectrum could be used for smartphones, tablets, small cells or public safety. Currently, he said, Wi-Fi devices have the hardware to access Globalstar's spectrum, but not the firmware. However, he said with an over-the-air update, Wi-Fi devices could use the airwaves.

The spectrum would allow a wireless carrier to offer speeds that are much faster than what users can get on unlicensed, public Wi-Fi, Dooley said. "You have a network-controlled service but you're using what was otherwise a public standard architecture," he said.

Dooley said the business model for TLPS is still being determined, but that Globalstar wants to partner with at least one wireless carrier. However, he said such a deal might not be exclusive. "You could conceive of a model where this would work across multiple carriers," he said, adding, "This will be the first band that any carrier can use."

If such a plan gets regulatory approval, will it find a receptive audience in the market? TMF Associates analyst Tim Farrar said that there may be multiple options next year for wireless carriers as they look to unconventional spectrum for offloading and other capacity needs, including the 3.5 GHz band for small cells. The FCC is moving forward with a plan to make that spectrum usable for small cells.

"They've got an advantage if they're quick," Farrar said of Globalstar. "If they're slow, people may choose something else." Dooley said that by October 2013 the company hopes to have rules finalized.

"The question is, does the carrier want to commit to this band to save money on their small cell deployment and go through upgrading their devices," Farrar said. "It's certainly simpler than adding a whole new band for their devices."

Farrar added that Globalstar is sure to be busy hyping the plan to investors. The small satellite firm will need to convince them that it has valuable spectrum on its hands to secure more funding, he said.

For more:
- see this release

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