These days, getting midband spectrum allocated for commercial 5G wireless operations is top of mind in the wireless industry, and Ligado Networks says it has prime midband spectrum that it’s ready to use as soon as the Federal Communications Commission gives it the green light.
It’s been a long time coming. The company, which is a product of predecessor Lightsquared, engaged in a long battle with the GPS community and others over interference concerns, but now it says it’s resolved those concerns, and it’s raring to go. It’s similar to a sentiment that was communicated almost two years ago.
The company had to make a lengthy list of commitments to make it this far, including agreeing to mitigate any impact on U.S. government GPS devices, and striking co-existence agreements with GPS companies, including Trimble, Garmin and Deere.
Representatives of industries that rely on the data collected by satellite systems are still voicing concerns (PDF) in the record about environmental and weather services. However, after years of tests and negotiations, Ligado President and CEO Doug Smith said the company has done what’s necessary to settle any lingering concerns about what it plans to do.
All that’s left to do, he said, is for the FCC to make its decision on proposed license modifications, something Ligado representatives increasingly have been urging the commission (PDF) to do, noting that its applications have been pending at the FCC for more than three years.
“We feel really good about where we are in the record that we built,” Smith said in an interview with FierceWirelessTech. “We’re looking forward to them making the decision here in the near term.”
Another play at midband
When people talk about midband spectrum, it’s usually referring to spectrum between 1 GHz and 6 GHz, which is a pretty big range, and the spectrum within that range has different attributes.
The company describes its 40 MHz (35 MHz + 5 MHz) opportunity in the L-Band as one that fills an important spectrum gap.
“The reason we have worked so hard to get the approval that we are seeking is because of the usefulness of this 40 megahertz of spectrum,” Smith said. It’s in the lower mid-band spectrum range—what he calls the sweet spot between 1.5 GHz and 1.6 GHz, which is the optimal location for in-building and good cell site coverage with a lot of capacity. “A 40 MHz position is fantastic,” and it’s situated on a national basis. “It really is worth the investment in time.”
While Ligado awaits FCC approval of license modifications, it’s also encouraged by another item that has been before the commission. At its May open meeting, the FCC approved a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comment on reallocating the 1675-1680 MHz band for shared use between incumbent federal users and new, non-federal flexible-use wireless operations.
FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr gave a nod to Ligado’s plans in his comments before the vote, describing it as a small sliver of spectrum, but “if it’s combined with adjacent and nearby channels, we could have a 40 MHz block that offers high-throughput at great distance. Those are excellent characteristics for next-gen mobile broadband.”
Ultimately, the idea is for that 5 MHz sliver to go to auction, one in which Ligado would be highly motivated to participate. Provided it wins, it could then add that to its nearby spectrum—and with its 35 MHz plus this additional 5 MHz, it would have 40 MHz of lower midband frequencies available for 5G applications.
Responding to a reporter’s question about Ligado’s status during a press conference after the FCC’s June 6 open meeting, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said he had no comment beyond the 5 MHz action that the commission recently took and he didn’t provide any hints as to timing. “We’re looking at the remainder of the company’s requests and working with other stakeholders to determine the appropriate way forward,” he said.
Plans include satellite/terrestrial combo
Smith said Ligado is not planning to compete for the same market that the big four established wireless carriers are going after. It will combine its existing satellite assets with the terrestrial services to support IoT in the industrial segments and private networks.
Meanwhile, it’s been working on establishing an ecosystem and already lined up supplier agreements with Ericsson and Sequans.
“I think what everyone is looking for is a new greenfield clear block of spectrum that they can put 5G on,” Smith said. “That’s what we have.” Higher bands are important but more challenging in coverage, and its spectrum is positioned in a place with great coverage and in-building characteristics.
The midband spectrum that much of the industry is eyeing, such as with 3.7-4.2 GHz, will require a clearing or relocation process. “Our spectrum is literally ready to go,” he said, which is rather rare.