The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is once more facing pressure to go back on its decision allowing Ligado to deploy a 5G network using L-Band spectrum in the U.S., after rival satellite company Iridium filed a complaint this month.
Despite major pushback from the Department of Defense (DoD) and other federal agencies over GPS interference concerns, the FCC in 2020 unanimously approved, with conditions, Ligado’s application to deploy the low-power terrestrial nationwide network in the L-Band to support 5G and IoT services.
Iridium filed its objection to the L-band network with the FCC just weeks after Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) rejected Ligado's application for authorization in Canada, also because of GPS interference concerns.
Iridium told the FCC that the order authorizing Ligado to operate ancillary terrestrial component (ATC) services in L-band spectrum will cause “significant interference into Iridium user terminals, which enable reliable connections and critical communications at sea, in the air and in remote lands, as well as to government and military users around the world.”
“Three years after adoption of the Ligado Order, the interference risks identified by myriad affected stakeholders not only remain valid, but are now supported by concerns raised by Canadian regulators who have explored the issue as well,” the filing added.
Iridium leaned heavily on the ISED’s decision to make its case to the FCC, noting that Canadian regulators questioned Ligado's ability to safeguard existing services from potential interference. The ISED denied Ligado Canada's application to operate ATC in the 1526-1536 MHz, 1627.5-1637.5 MHz, and 1646.5-1656.5 MHz bands, citing outstanding concerns raised by various Canadian government and defense groups.
ISED acknowledged the importance of Canada’s alignment with the U.S. on technological standards, but concluded that interference risks from Ligado's operations warranted withholding approval so that Canadian agencies can conduct their own research on possible risks.
“The well-supported objections from the federal government, stakeholders representing a broad cross-section of federal and commercial users of L-band satellite services, and now Canadian regulators convincingly demonstrate the unacceptable and detrimental risks of interference from ATC services authorized by the Ligado Order,” stated Iridium. “The public interest requires that these facts be taken together to stay and reverse the Ligado Order.”
Iridium’s filing echoes 90 other organizations which sent a letter to Congress and the Biden Administration this year asking for further assessment into potential interference concerns tied to the Ligado Order.
However, in response to the most recent protest, Ligado commented that Iridum's filing “badly misrepresents” the ISED decision.
“Iridium takes this clear conclusion that the Canadian regulator wants Canadian studies and converts it to an ‘objection,’ and then turns that upside down by suggesting Canadian regulators think the Commission made the wrong decision when it unanimously approved – by a 5-0 vote – Ligado’s spectrum plan,” Ligado said in its own FCC filing this month.
“This is sophistry, and plain statements from the ISED decision (conveniently omitted from the Iridium filing) make obvious the game Iridium is playing.”
In a separate statement Ligado said that while it is disappointed that ISED is seeking additional study, the company "appreciates that ISED believes this will help achieve consensus in its efforts to ensure maximum and efficient terrestrial use of the L-band in Canada."
Ligado noted that the FCC had studied this band “extensively for more than a decade” before it determined that it could be used for 5G terrestrial services in coexistince with neighboring GPS and SATCOM services.
“We’re confident that, with additional time and technical data, ISED will reach the same conclusions, which underscore that these frequencies, like most spectrum bands, can – and should – be used for multiple uses,” the company’s statement said.
“Iridium’s latest filing certainly isn’t surprising, as it’s yet another effort to peddle a false narrative. We’ve come to expect nothing less since it’s the same baseless strategy Iridium has used for years to try to keep Ligado out of the market. It’s a total waste of policymakers’ time and a distraction from the serious work that’s underway.”
Ligado’s efforts to put its L-band spectrum to use for terrestrial 5G have been years in the making.
The company in 2015 resubmitted applications to the FCC for license modification to offer 40 MHz of spectrum between 1.5 and 1.6 GHz for satellite-terrestrial use, after reaching coexistence agreements with GPS manufacturers who were concerned over interference.
At the time the FCC said the order approving Ligado’s application was adopted without dissent and would promote more efficient and effective use of the nation’s spectrum resources and ensure that adjacent band operations, including GPS, are protected from harmful interference.
In the order approving Ligado’s application, the FCC said it included stringent conditions to ensure that incumbents would not experience harmful interference. For example, Ligado must provide a 23-megahertz guard band using its own licensed spectrum to separate its terrestrial base station transmissions from neighboring operations.
As it stands, the FCC order also requires Ligado to limit the power levels of its base stations to 9.8 dBW, which represents a reduction of 99.3% from the power levels Ligado originally proposed in its 2015 application.
Since the FCC authorized the company's L-band use in the U.S., Ligado said it has made more than half a dozen filings to ensure it hasn't and will not take terrestrial deployment action until it has successfully worked with NTIA and other federal stakeholders “to resolve in a fair and reasonable manner certain matters related to the company’s terrestrial spectrum.”
The Ligado statement added, "as such, there remains nothing in Iridium’s filings for the Commission to address."