One of the tasks that Ligado has been focused on since getting the green light from the FCC is steering its L-band spectrum through the 3GPP standards process, and now the company can say it’s accomplished that.
The FCC in April 2020 approved Ligado’s proposed modification to its spectrum despite loud opposition from the Department of Defense (DoD) and the GPS community. Opponents cited potential harmful interference to GPS from Ligado’s planned use of the spectrum, even though the FCC said its conditional approval would prevent that.
Once it gained FCC approval, Ligado said it was intent on building an ecosystem for L-band products and services. Toward that end, Ligado announced on Monday that it received approvals from the 3GPP for new technical specifications that will enable L-band spectrum to be deployed in 5G networks.
Ligado is focused on offering a 5G Mobile Private Network Solution for the energy, manufacturing, health care, transportation and other critical infrastructure sectors. With 35 MHz of lower mid-band spectrum, Ligado says it can provide companies with “ultra-reliable and secure” private networks, similar to how FirstNet serves public safety on a dedicated network.
“This is a major milestone for us – in an already momentous year – and advances our vision to deploy this spectrum for a range of next-generation services,” said Ligado CEO Doug Smith in a statement. “The 3GPP green light gives us what we need to accelerate our commercial ecosystem activities and expand Ligado’s roster of partners to deploy this much-needed spectrum for U.S. businesses and consumers.”
Specifically, Ligado said the items that were approved at this week’s 3GPP plenary meeting include updates to Ligado’s existing LTE Band 24; a new 5G NR Band labeled n24; a new 5G NR Supplemental Uplink (SUL) Band labeled n99; and NR Carrier Aggregation (CA) and SUL band combinations for n24 and n99 with CBRS, C-Band and EBS/BRS spectrum.
The approvals of SUL band n99 and band combinations “will help facilitate the deployments of L-Band spectrum with other mid-band airwaves like the C-Band, CBRS, and EBS spectrum bands,” according to Ligado.
“Receiving these 3GPP approvals is a huge springboard to deploy the L-Band in U.S. 5G networks, and we’re excited to have continued support from several industry-leading vendors,” said Ligado CTO Maqbool Aliani in a statement. “Bringing this additional mid-band spectrum to the 5G market will help the U.S. roll out next-generation deployments more quickly, at lower costs, and with superior network performance.”
Ligado said it’s already entered into commercial agreements with multiple 5G base station and chipset vendors. In June 2020, Ligado’s submissions into 3GPP were approved and “enjoyed the support of global vendors such as Nokia, Intel, Samsung, and Sequans,” according to the company.
By October, Ligado announced it had successfully raised nearly $4 billion to develop and deploy the L-band in 5G networks. At the time, the company said the capital would further strengthen its commercial collaboration with chipset designers, device manufacturers and network infrastructure providers.
Earlier this year, the company announced a collaboration with Japan's Rakuten Mobile to showcase its 5G Mobile Private Network Solution, and the partners are planning lab and field trials over the next 12 months.
Speculation for years has run high that Ligado wanted to sell its spectrum to the highest bidder, lately that being a wireless carrier hungry for mid-band 5G spectrum. While that hasn’t happened, some still see it as a valuable resource for the likes of Verizon or AT&T. If T-Mobile or Dish acquired the L-band, they would extend their advantage even further, according to New Street Research analyst Jonathan Chaplin in a September 2020 report.
“The final major step for Ligado will involve getting chipset and radio vendors to incorporate the L-Band into their designs, paving the way for a carrier to deploy the L-Band on towers and small cells and to sell devices that contain L-Band-supporting chipsets,” Chaplin wrote in a report for investors today. “This final leg of the process is likely to take some time, but could be accelerated by the support of a large industry player (one of the carriers), who can more easily encourage their vendors to integrate the spectrum into their equipment.”
Verizon, it would seem, is out of the running. Verizon's Adam Koeppe, senior vice president of Technology Strategy and Planning, told Fierce back in March that the company had no interest in using the L-band. That asset has been known in the industry for a long time, and “they have not been able to do anything with it… We have no plans to use anything that they’re peddling," he said.