Microsoft follows Google, NCTA in dissing Globalstar plan

Some big names came together at a Washington, D.C., event this week to voice their concerns about Globalstar's proposed terrestrial lower power service (TLPS). Among them: Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), the Wi-Fi Alliance, the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA).

Globalstar's response? It's not backing down, not by a long shot. "We're not going away," Globalstar General Council and Vice President of Regulatory Affairs L. Barbee Ponder told FierceWirelessTech after the event.

FierceWirelessTech did not attend the event, nor did Globalstar. The event's moderator said Globalstar was invited but declined.

The status of Globalstar, which has been brewing in the form of an FCC proceeding for at least a couple of years, reached a high point--or low, depending on perspective--last fall when shortseller Kerrisdale Capital grabbed headlines by saying Globalstar, its spectrum and its plans were "worthless." Globalstar shot back earlier this year by setting out to prove--at the FCC's own Technology Experince Center (TEC) facilities--that its planned services are not a threat to existing Bluetooth or Wi-Fi users and will be a benefit to the overall Wi-Fi ecosystem.

The Bluetooth SIG and NCTA were invited to participate in the tests, which Globalstar deemed a success and its adversaries deemed the opposite. "In recent months, and at the FCC's urging, Globalstar conducted a 'demonstration' of its TLPS technology. As others have pointed out, this demonstration did not adequately seek to measure interference," the WISPA stated in a recent FCC filing.

This week's panel discussion presented by the Open Technology Institute and Microsoft was moderated by Michael Calabrese, director, Wireless Future Project at New America's Open Technology Institute. Participants included representatives from the NCTA, WISPA, Google, Wi-Fi Alliance and Microsoft. To one degree or another, each of the presenters conveyed concerns about Globalstar's TLPS plans.

Globalstar initially was invited but it declined to participate after it was decided that it would get only one seat at the table. "It wasn't going to be a balanced discussion," Ponder told FierceWirelessTech.  

Globalstar was prompted, however, to release a statement suggesting the reason Google and Microsoft are opposing its TLPS is due to competition. Google on April 22 announced a new mobile service offering called Project Fi, which toggles between licensed and unlicensed spectrum using a network of Wi-Fi hotspots. On June 2, information surfaced online about an expanded Microsoft Wi-Fi service designed to use publicly available Wi-Fi hotspots around the world.

"And, of course, there are cable's highly publicized plans to expand their networks of millions of Wi-Fi access points that they will monetize by providing wireless services to their customer base using a combination of unlicensed spectrum and MVNO agreements," Globalstar said in its statement.

Calabrese told FierceWirelessTech that the event organizers didn't intentionally stack the deck against Globalstar. "We wanted a variety of perspectives," and Globalstar declined to attend, citing concerns about being outnumbered.

In his opening remarks, a copy of which he shared with FierceWirelessTech, Calabrese gave a brief history of Globalstar and some of the reasoning behind its proposal. He also included some of Globalstar's arguments about why the creation of a fourth Wi-Fi channel, even though proprietary, would be in the public interest. Among them: Globalstar has said its services could be used by anyone with a smartphone or other devices with Wi-Fi built in with a simple software upgrade. It also would add much-needed capacity to Wi-Fi offload in general, and if its plan were approved, it would donate 20,000 TLPS access points to schools and hospitals.

Wrapping up his presentation, Calabrese said: "Needless to say, virtually every current industry and company relying on unlicensed spectrum has serious concerns about this idea."

That includes a concern that Microsoft brought up in an FCC filing that there's nothing to prevent Globalstar from using an LTE standard rather than an 802.11 standard. "LTE-U as we understand it today, and unlike Wi-Fi, is not a polite protocol, and would cause significantly more interference concerns than the demonstrated system," the company said.

Microsoft said it is concerned that the use of TLPS would allow a single licensee to effectively gain exclusive access to shared unlicensed spectrum, potentially precluding existing users and degrading the services of users on adjacent spectrum bands.

Microsoft also said it did not itself comment in the proceeding until its filing dated May 29 because it had hoped that Globalstar would have conducted "rigorous system-level testing of indoor and outdoor real-world TLPS use cases" at the commission's proposed operating parameters. "Such rigorous system level testing could have allayed concerns regarding the potential impacts of TLPS operations on Wi-Fi Channel 14 to licensed and unlicensed operations in adjacent spectrum, and could have demonstrated Globalstar's capacity and willingness to address any technical issue that might arise from such a service."

Globalstar chose to focus on one-way downlink in its tests, and as one of many companies that offer real-time, two-way video communications products (i.e., Skype and Skype for Business), "it is important to understand how TLPS under different load factors in high-density deployments might impact the real-time, two-way video quality of service," Microsoft said. "For these products, packet throughput is not the only relevant parameter. Packet latency, jitter and error rate very much affect the mobile consumer's experience. The TEC demonstration offers little insight in this regard."

For its part, Globalstar sees itself as the David going up against a bunch of Goliaths. "We believe innovation and consumer benefits are often driven by small companies challenging the large, and that this will result in robust competition which will continue to drive the evolution of the wireless sector," Globalstar said in its statement.

For  more:
- see this Globalstar statement
- see this Kerrisdale Capital post
- see this Microsoft filing

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