LightSquared 4G buildout plans leak

LightSquared plans to launch its wholesale LTE network in as many as nine U.S. markets in 2011, and could expand that list to 20 markets in 2012, according to company documents unearthed by Bloomberg.

The venture, which is funded by Philip Falcone's Harbinger Capital Partners hedge fund, plans to launch in Chicago, Dallas and Minneapolis in 2011, and could expand to Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco in 2012, the documents show.

Further, according to the documents, the company expects to add 300 base stations this year, 5,000 by the end of 2011, and around 13,000 base stations in 11 more metropolitan areas in 2012. The company has inked a $7 billion deal with Nokia Siemens Networks, which is designing and building the network.

LightSquared CEO Sanjiv Ahuja confirmed to Bloomberg that the documents are authentic, but said some details have been changed since they were distributed to potential partners. However, Ahuja said LightSquared is on track to begin constructing its network in December.

LightSquared will compete directly with Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR) in many markets; Clearwire currently operates a mobile WiMAX network and counts Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S), Comcast and Time Warner Cable as resellers. Further, LightSquared will face competition from larger rivals Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T), which are set to expand their own LTE networks. Verizon plans to launch LTE service in 25-30 commercial markets in the fourth quarter of this year, and AT&T plans a launch next year. Meanwhile, flat-rate carrier MetroPCS (NYSE:PCS) is reportedly launching LTE service within the next several weeks in Dallas and Las Vegas.

LightSquared has said its wholesale LTE network will allow for terrestrial-only, satellite-only or integrated satellite-terrestrial services (via the terrestrial and MSS spectrum Harbinger scored through a merger in March with satellite operator SkyTerra). LightSquared is planning initial LTE trials in Baltimore, Denver, Las Vegas and Phoenix, with commercial launches planned by the third quarter of 2011. The company, which has access to 59 MHz of spectrum, has said its network will consist of around 40,000 cellular base stations covering 92 percent of the U.S. population by 2015.

The venture's aggressive buildout plans--and its ability to meet them--have some Harbinger investors worried. Ahuja said he is confident that the company is making progress, noting that LightSquared has reached out to about 35 technology companies. "Our negotiations have progressed on a much faster pace than we had originally planned for," he told Bloomberg.

For more:
- see this Bloomberg article

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