Last week's FCC notice of proposed rulemaking not only sets the stage for Globalstar to offer a private, licensed Wi-Fi service using some of its spectrum but also confirms that the commission will address Globalstar's longer-term plan to offer LTE services in the full Big LEO band via a separate, future proceeding.
Globalstar did not get everything it wanted out of last week's NPRM, but the company says the proposed rules allowing it to deploy a terrestrial broadband network over 22 MHz of spectrum in the 2.4 GHz band are actually better than the regulatory plan it designed.
As Globalstar requested, the FCC's proposed new rules would let the satellite communications company deliver 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 company has said standard Wi-Fi devices have the hardware to access Globalstar's spectrum, but not the firmware, though an over-the-air update could enable Wi-Fi devices to use those airwaves.
The satellite company touts TLPS as offering five times the throughput and propagation of existing Wi-Fi deployments. Further, TLPS would have an advantage over standard Wi-Fi, whose signals can easily become degraded in the unlicensed, increasingly crowded, free-for-all spectrum bands assigned to it.
In a conference call yesterday, L. Barbee Ponder, general counsel and vice president of regulatory affairs, confessed to having "a sinking feeling" upon reading the NPRM notice because "this was not what we requested."
The FCC did not propose a separate terrestrial license under Part 27 rules, as Globalstar had sought and as the commission had done previously for Dish Network (NASDAQ: DISH) when it created the AWS-4 spectrum that Dish wants to use to build a terrestrial LTE network.
Instead, the FCC's new NPRM proposes updating existing Part 25 rules to permit Globalstar to offer terrestrial mobile broadband services. "While the proposed new Part 25 rules are not what we requested, they are in fact better," said Ponder.
The FCC found that any mobile broadband service offered over the 22 MHz of spectrum "must be under Globalstar's exclusive control," he said. In addition, the FCC would substantially eliminate ancillary terrestrial component (ATC) gating criteria as they relate to Globalstar's provision of mobile broadband services.
In a huge win for Globalstar, the FCC recommends not imposing any buildout requirements on the company's planned terrestrial service because it would be ancillary to Globalstar's existing commercial mobile satellite services. Buildout requirements would have been imposed under a Part 27 licensing regime, as they were with Dish.
New Street Research said wireless carriers might be interested in using TLPS spectrum for managed Wi-Fi offload, while cable and other wireline companies "could use it to provide a much better Wi-Fi experience for broadband subs both in and out of the home, and to offer a wholesale managed Wi-Fi offload service to the carriers."
Globalstar's TLPS plan has prompted interference concerns related to BAS and Bluetooth frequencies. Jay Monroe, Globalstar CEO and chairman, said the company is engaged with both camps and expects to work out their differences.
Regarding Globalstar's desire to use its full Big LEO spectrum (which is comprised of L-band and S-band spectrum) for an FDD-LTE network, Monroe said the company wants that on a separate track from TLPS in order to assure that all interests, particularly GPS interests, are "fully vetted in any operations in the L Band." However, he emphasized that Globalstar's blueprint is quite different from LightSquared's, which had its L Band LTE plans scuttled due to GPS interference issues.
The FCC pledged to address Globalstar's higher-powered services proposal separately from TLPS "and we are quite comfortable that they will do that," Monroe said.
The FCC set the TLPS comment deadline for 75 days after the NPRM's publication in the Federal Register, which would likely fall in January or February 2014. The reply deadline will be 30 days later.
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