Globalstar open to outdoor Wi-Fi 5.1 GHz if its operations can be protected

Globalstar wants to work with proponents of opening up the 5.1 GHz band for use by high-power, outdoor Wi-Fi equipment but only if those changes do not negatively impact Globalstar's mobile satellite services (MSS) business, a company executive said.

"We want to find a solution, but we didn't spend seven years and $1 billion dollars to launch a constellation of satellites just to turn around and hand over half or all of our capacity to other commercial interests," L. Barbee Ponder, Globalstar's general counsel and vice president of regulatory affairs, told FierceWirelessTech.

At issue is the 5150-5250 MHz portion of the Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (U-NII) band, whose unlicensed use is restricted to lower wattage and indoor operations. Globalstar uses the same spectrum for four licensed MSS feeder links serving its duplex voice service.

Numerous parties want the FCC to OK higher-power, outdoor, unlicensed operations in that spectrum, referred to as U-NII-1, calling it the best option to quickly ease Wi-Fi spectrum exhaustion. Cable TV industry interests are among the most assertive proponents, with many MSOs intent on creating a ubiquitous, urban Wi-Fi network that will let them compete against cellular operators' data services.

Globalstar, however, contends that enabling outdoor operations in U-NII-1 would decimate its two-way voice service, which lost customers in the mid 2000s as its initial satellites degraded and was only recently restarted thanks to the launch of a new $1 billion constellation.

Ponder said Globalstar's entire business plan relies upon use of the licensed 5.1 GHz feeder links for forward feeder links, which deliver voice transmissions from ground stations to Globalstar satellites. "It's good policy that we continue to share our licensed spectrum with unlicensed interests. But we can't agree with the proposal to allow the ubiquitous deployment of outdoor devices because it will swamp our system," he added.

Globalstar and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) have traded salvos over the past six months, with each submitting studies to the FCC that support their stances. Studies produced by CableLabs and experts at the University of Colorado for NCTA claim to prove that outdoor Wi-Fi use in the Un-NII-1 band will not interfere with Globalstar's operations.

But Ponder contends it is "impossible for NCTA or the FCC to ensure that Globalstar's mobile satellite services will not suffer harmful interference if the unlimited, potentially ubiquitous outdoor deployment of U-NII-1 access points is permitted."

Ken Zdunek of Roberson and Associates, which produced studies on Globalstar's behalf, found a number of issues with the latest study submitted by NCTA. Among other things, he argues that NCTA's submission "seemingly contradicts itself by simultaneously arguing that less than 50 percent of deployments of Wi-Fi access points at 5 GHz will be outdoors, while also stating that outdoor operation in the U-NII-1 band is required to accommodate future Wi-Fi use in the 5 GHz U-NII bands."

Nonetheless, Globalstar is open to discussing ways to open up 5.1 GHz to outdoor Wi-Fi service if guidelines or specifications can be created to protect Globalstar's MSS operations. "We just haven't gotten far enough down that road yet to see whether there is a viable solution there or not," Ponder said.

He noted Globalstar has common ground with those who contend the 2.4 GHz band is being exhausted by Wi-Fi traffic in many urban areas. In fact, that situation has led Globalstar to propose initiating a terrestrial low power service (TLPS) over its 11.5 MHz of previously licensed S-band spectrum at 2483.5-2495 MHz, as well as the adjacent 10.5 MHz of unlicensed spectrum at 2473-2483.5 MHz.

The FCC issued a notice of proposed rulemaking on the TLPS proposal last fall, and a comment cycle in the proceeding will begin once a notice is published in the Federal Register.

Ponder would not comment on rumors that Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) has considered integrating TLPS into planned service offerings. But he said numerous companies have contacted Globalstar seeking information on TLPS.

"We think that as the rulemaking progresses, those sorts of discussions--both the number and the depth of them--will continue to improve," he added.

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