What makes him powerful: Philip Falcone, a former trader with Barclays Capital, founded Harbinger Capital Partners in 2001 with the intent of specializing in distressed events or strategies. The firm has owned stakes in the New York Times Company and British sugar producer Tate & Lyle. More interestingly, it currently owns a stake in mobile satellite firm SkyTerra.
Harbinger gained notoriety earlier this year when it launched LightSquared, a new venture that will use SkyTerra's MSS spectrum, Ancillary Terrestrial Component spectrum and terrestrial-only spectrum--along with spectrum hosting and pooling agreements--to roll out a nationwide wholesale LTE network. LightSquared plans initial LTE trials in Baltimore, Denver, Las Vegas and Phoenix. The firm, which has access to a total of 59 MHz of spectrum, has said its network will consist of around 40,000 cellular base stations covering 92 percent of the U.S. population by 2015.
LightSquared's plans stunned many in the industry and sparked a lot of skepticism over whether Falcone and LightSquared could generate enough funding to follow through on the ambitious LTE plans.
Nevertheless, Falcone and his team are moving full steam ahead. In July LightSquared announced it received an additional $1.75 billion in debt and equity financing, and inked an eight-year, $7 billion deal with Nokia Siemens Networks to deploy its LTE network. In addition, the company lined up a management team that includes veterans of Vodafone, Orange, Time Warner and more.
But this innovative startup continues to draw comparisons to NextWave, the ill-fated venture that gained notoriety in 1996 for outbidding other operators in an FCC auction for valuable PCS spectrum. NextWave went on to file for bankruptcy, and then engaged in a high-profile battle with the FCC over its right to keep or sell its PCS licenses despite not having paid for them.
Nevertheless, LightSquared appears to be inking more deals every month. In October, the company announced new device deals with Nokia (NYSE:NOK), Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) and other companies.
Although LightSquared still has a long way to go before its network becomes a reality, Falcone certainly believes that all these recent agreements will bolster confidence in his ambitious plans. --Sue