LightSquared floats plan to use weather-balloon spectrum for LTE

LightSquared is proposing to share spectrum the federal government uses for weather balloons. The company hopes to couple this spectrum with the L-Band satellite spectrum LightSquared already holds in an attempt to finally get its planned wholesale LTE network up and running.

Bankrupt LightSquared approached the FCC with a proposal under which the company would combine the 5 MHz it uses for satellite service at 1670-1675 MHz with frequencies in the 1675-1680 MHz band, currently used by National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration weather balloons, said PCWorld. The company would share the NOAA spectrum rather than gaining exclusive rights to it.

Such an arrangement would give the company 10 MHz for downstream LTE traffic. The company would employ another pair of bands totaling 20 MHz--which it uses for satellite services now--for LTE traffic going upstream from users' mobile devices, said PCWorld.

The total 30 MHz of spectrum would be 10 MHz less than LightSquared had intended to use for its LTE network.

LightSquared is licensed for MSS operation in portions of the 1525-1544 MHz and 1545-1559 MHz downlink bands and the 1626.5-1645.5 MHz and 1646.5-1660.5 MHz uplink bands. LightSquared's spectrum in the 1525-1559 MHz block sits below spectrum allocated for GPS. Most GPS devices are not designed to ignore out-of-band signals, such as those produced by LightSquared's proposed network, which led the FCC to cancel LightSquared's conditional waiver for terrestrial service earlier this year.

The company also filed a rulemaking petition under which it would hold onto all of its L-Band spectrum but forego deploying service on the 10 MHz that have been shown to cause GPS interference, at least until the FCC can conduct a rulemaking process that could eventually open the door for that spectrum's use for terrestrial service.

The filings come at a critical time for LightSquared, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in May and is expected to ask U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Shelley C. Chapman today to extend the amount of time it has for filing a reorganization plan without the threat of rival proposals from disgruntled lenders until at least next summer, said the Wall Street Journal. Even if the judge grants the exclusivity request, hedge-fund manager Philip Falcone, who still controls the wireless venture, could face more legal battles from lenders early next year is he cannot show progress in solving LightSquared's regulatory quandary.

In a late September hearing on Capitol Hill, several lawmakers accused the FCC of rushing to judgment in Jan. 2011 when it approved LightSquared's request to use its spectrum for a wireless broadband network. The commission subsequently yanked LightSquared's conditional waiver in February after deciding the company's planned service would cause too much interference to GPS equipment.

The company is in "regulatory limbo" since it lost its regulatory waiver, and "its 40 megahertz of spectrum is left unused in a time when demand for wireless service and broadband is exploding," said Representative Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), chairman of the investigations subcommittee of the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee. Stearns, who called LightSquared's technology "a game-changer," appeared to press FCC officials to find a way to save the company.

Julius Knapp, chief of the FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology, told legislators at the hearing that the commission is reexamining the LightSquared situation. "LightSquared has put some new ideas on the table, and we think everything is worth considering at this point," he said in comments made prior to LightSquared's official proposal and petition for rulemaking.

Intriguingly, LightSquared's proposal and petition to the FCC were submitted on the same day the commission announced plans to review and update its satellite licensing rules, which may or may not have been prompted by the LightSquared saga. Among other things, the notice of proposed rulemaking includes proposals that would "shift from a 'tell us how you built it' approach to a 'tell us how you avoid interference with your neighbors' approach," said the FCC.

For more:
- see this Wall Street Journal article (sub. req.)
- see this PCWorld article
- see this Engadget article
- see this Bloomberg Businessweek article
- see this FCC release
- see this SpacePolicyOnline article

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