Ligado inks deal with Mavenir for 5G base stations

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Ligado said it plans to launch service trials in 2022, providing standalone satellite or multi-layer connections to enterprise customers in the transportation, agriculture, utilities and energy sectors. (Getty Images)

Ligado Networks, whose stated mission is to deploy a 5G mobile satellite network for IoT, announced a deal with Mavenir on the development of base stations.

It follows an announcement in June when Ligado said it will work with Mavenir to develop open Radio Access Network (RAN)-compliant remote radio units and cloud-native open RAN software compatible with Ligado’s L-band spectrum. With their latest agreement, the companies are entering a phase that involves non-terrestrial networks.

Ligado recently secured approvals from 3GPP for new technical specifications so that its L-band spectrum can be used for 5G. Ligado said its work within the 3GPP will help satellite and terrestrial networks operate in harmony.

RELATED: Ligado obtains 3GPP L-band approvals for 5G

“We are deeply committed to supporting critical infrastructure enterprises as they modernize their operations for a 21st Century economy,” said Ligado CEO Doug Smith in a statement. “Ubiquitous network coverage and reliability are especially essential for critical device communications, which makes our 5G satellite IoT network a pivotal tool to ensure always-on connectivity and data management for an enterprise’s entire fleet of devices.”

With holdings in the 1.6 GHz band, Ligado spent many years fighting for the right to use its spectrum – and still faces backlash from the GPS industry. Still, Ligado said it plans to launch service trials in 2022, providing standalone satellite or multi-layer connections to enterprise customers in the transportation, agriculture, utilities, and energy sectors.

The company also said it plans to adapt 3GPP standards-based technology for mobile satellite use, enabling the network to support devices using low-cost chipsets that can also operate on terrestrial IoT networks.

Cellular, satellite combos

During an online event with the Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA) earlier this month, Smith told WIA’s Jonathan Adelstein, a former FCC commissioner, how the satellite and cellular industries were competing many years ago to supply the same type of service, which was really all about mobile phones.

Times have changed, and “I think we as an industry understand the strengths and the applications for each, and we take a different approach here," which isn't about an "either/or" proposition, Smith said. It’s about getting the best of both worlds.

Smith alluded to a “couple different vendors” that are helping it build a 5G standards-based satellite air interface. Historically, players in the satellite space pursued their own proprietary air interface, which led to more expensive and larger devices without the benefit of advances done on the terrestrial side, according to Smith.

By bringing its satellite technology into the 5G realm, “now we can start to do things like integrate the satellite capability into a single chipset and put it on a device,” so that the satellite can be used to provide service where needed. “These two things, I think, are very complementary.”

Smith also discussed the prospects of combining Ligado’s L-band with spectrum in the 3 GHz range. The 3 GHz frequencies don’t cover as much geography as the 1-2 GHz band. A lot of study has been done around using 3+ GHz primarily for downlink and the 1-2 GHz band for uplink, which can create channel combinations that feel “more like AWS spectrum,” which has been at the heart of many 4G deployments.  

Smith said they’ve looked at a lot of bands, including C-band, 2.5 GHz and 3.5 GHz, in combination with Ligado’s L-band.

“We are headed as an industry to get the most out of every megahertz of spectrum that we have, and we’ve anticipated this and … I think our spectrum is a big part of the solution. Not by itself,” but the idea is to combine L-band with other spectrum for coverage and higher speeds to homes, he said.

A lot of study went into the FCC’s approval of Ligado’s modification request, which was required for it to use the L-band spectrum. But it’s “unfortunate,” he said, that some people continue to question the FCC's decision after the fact. “This is a very science-based approach,” he said, adding that he’s happy to see the Biden Administration talk about using science to guide the way on these types of things.

Yet there continues to be pushback from the GPS community.

“We’re an American company and we care about everything that we do as a steward of the spectrum” and it’s taken a collaborative approach to solve interference issues and to make sure they aren’t disruptive, he said. If an unresolved issue were to come up, “we’re always here” to address it, he said.