Ligado fetes year’s progress as opponents reach out to Biden

Ligado Networks is celebrating the one-year anniversary of the FCC’s approval of its license modification application, but a group of private companies is throwing water on it with renewed calls for the government to revisit the decision.

Ligado CEO Doug Smith shared a number of milestones in a blog this week. After years of back and forth with the GPS community, the company received the FCC’s blessing a year ago to move ahead with plans to offer commercial services in the L-band.

The company has approached the 3GPP to begin the process to standardize its spectrum. The company is also collaborating with Rakuten Mobile, which is pursuing Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN) technology, to build a commercial blueprint for 5G mobile private networks. Trials are expected to start later this year.

Earlier this month, Ligado successfully completed a 5G over-the-air call on its test network, “a validation that our spectrum and planned network architecture are well-suited for next-generation applications,” Smith said.

Ligado has its sights set on critical infrastructure companies – everything from shipping outfits to agribusiness to renewable energy facilities – that require dedicated private networks for efficiency, cost and reliability reasons, according to Smith.  

“These networks are the perfect intersection of Ligado capabilities and wireless market demand – but it’s also a vision that is aligned with Washington’s bipartisan priorities,” Smith said.

By way of example, he said they’re planning to leverage O-RAN technology, which lawmakers discussed in a House hearing on Wednesday. “We agree that this cutting-edge technology will be crucial to advancing secure, next-generation networks and American leadership in 5G. We also believe it is the perfect fit for enterprise networks because its flexibility makes it easier to serve different businesses specific needs.”

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He also addressed concerns about GPS interference. Throughout its work with the federal government in getting FCC approval, “Ligado has been steadfast in its commitment to protect and support GPS.” Toward that end, it launched a Government Device Program to help ensure GPS receivers used by the federal government are not impacted by Ligado operations. “We’re committed to making this investment because it’s one we believe will help advance U.S. leadership over the long term.”

Opposition calls on Biden

A coalition of 98 entities on Thursday sent letters to President Joe Biden and members of Congress asking them to work with the FCC to revisit the FCC’s order that allows Ligado to proceed. Iridium, Trimble, CalAmp, Frontier Airlines, Helicopter Association International and the National Weather Association are among the signatories.

“Although Ligado continues to attempt to convince policymakers that its proposed terrestrial service will not cause harmful interference and is somehow critical to American success in 5G, the executive branch and affected parties have repeatedly detailed the adverse economic, national security, and public safety impact of the proposed Ligado operations,” the groups said. 

They argue that the order allowing Ligado to operate terrestrial services in the band threatens to disrupt the reliability of satellite communications, GPS and weather forecasting services used in commercial aviation operations, precision farming and autonomous ground and air vehicles.

“We therefore urge you to work together with the FCC to stay and ultimately set aside the Ligado Order – the risks to American lives and to the American economy are simply too great,” they wrote.

Last year, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) asked the FCC to set aside the initial Ligado order based on the “irreparable harm” that would result from Ligado’s proposed terrestrial network.

Before he departed in January, former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai rejected NTIA’s request, saying the Ligado decision would hold. Pai said the FCC’s order imposed stringent conditions to protect incumbent users, including GPS services and Pentagon operations that operate outside the band. 

Ligado issued the following statement in response to Thursday's letters: “The FCC – the independent agency authorized by Congress to manage our nation’s commercial airwaves – has made and affirmed its bi-partisan decision. Its decision was based on rigorous scientific analysis and thousands of pages of data. Rather than rehashing tired arguments and politics, we are focused on the future, which means working cooperatively with all stakeholders to implement the FCC’s order, developing 5G solutions and investing in U.S. digital infrastructure. That is how we build back better.”