What makes him powerful: Sanjiv Ahuja has plenty of experience building companies. During his tenure from 2004 through 2007 as CEO of global telecom giant Orange Group, Ahuja helped grow Orange's customer base from 48 million to more than 100 million subscribers globally. And after his stint at Orange, Ahuja helped found not one but two companies: Augere, which is building a wireless broadband network in Bangladesh and Pakistan; and Eaton Telecom, which is building communications infrastructure in Africa.
So it's fitting that Harbinger Capital Partners chief Philip Falcone in 2010 hired Ahuja as chairman and CEO of LightSquared, Falcone's massive mobile broadband gambit. Ahuja is tasked with building a nationwide LTE network that LightSquared will offer on a wholesale basis to any and all customers.
To be sure, there are major obstacles that Ahuja and LightSquared must overcome to fulfill Falcone's vision. LightSquared must raise the billions necessary to build a network, it must obtain devices and network equipment for that network, and it must garner enough wholesale customers to make the business model work. And that's not even Ahuja's main challenge: The FCC is investigating concerns that LightSquared's planned network will interfere with GPS receivers, an issue that has dogged LightSquared's rollout plans for much of this year.
But LightSquared's pitch is a catchy one. The company plans to leverage Sprint Nextel's Network Vision network modernization effort--meaning, LightSquared's signal will be transmitted by Sprint's towers but LightSquared will maintain its own independent core network. Perhaps more importantly, LightSquared predicts its LTE network will provide faster download speeds than the LTE offerings from Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T).
Already, though, LightSquared has managed to rack up a surprisingly lengthy customer list, which stretches from Leap Wireless (NASDAQ:LEAP) to Aircado.
LightSquared plans to launch commercial service in an unspecified number of major markets in the second half of next year, and that its network will cover Sprint's entire current 3G network footprint by 2014.
While there are serious and extensive challenges to LightSquared's efforts, the company appears to have enough going for it that its fate is anything but certain. +Mike