Iridium says Ligado’s ‘spectrum reality’ not the same as everyone else’s

Iridium has sunk billions of dollars into its second-generation Iridium NEXT constellation. (Iridium)

In the latest salvo in their feud, Iridium Communications is accusing Ligado Networks of subscribing to its own brand of “spectrum reality” that doesn’t match up with the spectrum reality the rest of the world and Iridium live with every day.

Iridium insists that Ligado’s proposed terrestrial operations will significantly interfere with Iridium’s operations in the adjacent 1617.775-1626.5 MHz spectrum, and while Ligado has argued that Iridium’s analysis is “divorced from the spectrum reality it exists in today,” Iridium says it’s Ligado that has a problem with spectrum and reality.

Indeed, Ligado has come a long way since it first proposed the idea of becoming a provider of terrestrial-based services. It successfully came to terms with the GPS community that had raised interference concerns, and just last month, Ligado executives said they believed federal decision-makers had the last piece of information they need to approve the company’s plan to operate a terrestrial LTE network alongside GPS devices. They pointed to a 428-page report by the National Advanced Spectrum and Communications Test Network as proof positive.


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Ligado has access to a nationwide block of 1525-1559 MHz spectrum in the L-band; its current operations are satellite-based, and it believes that combining that with a terrestrial network would be a great asset for supporting 5G and the Internet of Things.

But Iridium says all those—potentially millions—of “things” are virtually guaranteed to come into contact with Iridium terminals and wreak havoc on its system. Iridium has sunk billions of dollars into its second-generation Iridium NEXT constellation and wants to protect its investment against potential interference.

For its part, Ligado has previously blasted (PDF) Iridium’s analysis as flawed. Just last month, however, Ligado told FCC officials (PDF) that the two companies were working closely to resolve Iridium’s concerns, which apparently didn’t go swimmingly given Iridium’s latest filing.

“Ligado gravely misconstrues the FCC’s ATC rules in an attempt to skirt its fundamental responsibility to protect Iridium or any third party MSS provider from its proposed terrestrial wireless business,” Iridium said in its March 27 filing. “And like the Greeks entering Troy in the Trojan Horse, Ligado tries to persuade Iridium (and the Commission) that it will be better off under Ligado’s newest terrestrial proposal than the status quo. Iridium has no interest in playing a role in that story—we all know how it ends.”

Interestingly, the Washington, D.C.-based Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal & Economic Public Policy Studies last week published a bulletin examining the FCC’s policies around spectrum interference, and it used the continuing saga of Ligado, formerly known as LightSquared Networks, as a case study, though it said the analysis was in no way limited to the specifics of this particular ongoing proceeding.

How the FCC decides to treat Iridium will establish a precedent for future cases involving interference and sunk costs, and in many respects, Iridium “and other victims” of Ligado’s interference serve as a “canary in the coal mine,” the center said, signaling to existing spectrum licensees how the commission will address interference and investments "during this period of substantial repurposing of spectrum."