Two FCC decisions could have major impact on WiMAX

Two decisions from the FCC have given WiMAX life in the U.S. and may pave the way for quite a substantial WiMAX footprint across the US. Not only did the commission approve the merger between Sprint's WiMAX business and Clearwire, which plans to roll out WiMAX in major markets, but it also gave its blessing to Globalstar's desire to offer WiMAX to rural communities. (See story No. 3)

In fact, we could see WiMAX playing a vital role in reviving the MSS industry as well as MSS players pushing the footprint of WiMAX. Many MSS operators are banking their survival on incorporating an ancillary terrestrial component (ATC) that would solve a fundamental problem plaguing their industry: operators' inability to penetrate buildings with satellite signals. That technical shortfall has had a tremendous constraint on demand and resulted in higher operating and equipment costs.

Globalstar has won approval from the FCC to incorporate WiMAX in the ATC with the help of terrestrial partner Open Range Communication. The two will offer WiMAX to more than 500 rural communities--with the help of a $267 million loan from the Department of Agriculture's Rural Development Utilities Program. Globalstar said it will be looking for other partners too.

There are more moves afoot among more MSS players. Clearwire announced a joint agreement with satellite company ICO Global Communications, which launched its ICO G1 satellite in April, a year ago to collaborate on a mobile video trial that began this year. The trial is focusing on increasing the value and cost effectiveness of delivering advanced interactive mobile video services. Craig McCaw, who founded Clearwire, owns a 75-percent voting interest in ICO, which has a new business model revolving around delivering mobile video and interactive navigation services to consumers.

Also last year, Mobile Satellite Ventures (MSV) teamed with Nortel to deploy a trial integrated WiMAX and satellite broadband service. MSV doesn't have a terrestrial partner at this point but the company is looking for one, whether that's a WiMAX or an LTE operator.

If Globalstar makes headway with its WiMAX plans, I suspect we'll see the MSS industry play a significant and surprising role in the proliferation of not only WiMAX but LTE too.--Lynnette

P.S. - Check out our Sound Off featuring industry players debating the other FCC decision on White space...