Harbinger Capital Partners hired Sanjiv Ahuja, the former CEO of France Telecom's Orange wireless unit, to run its wireless venture, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. The private-equity firm hopes to build a nationwide, wholesale LTE network using both terrestrial and MSS spectrum following the firm's merger in March with satellite operator SkyTerra.
The report, citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter, also said Harbinger is in discussions with Qwest Communications and SK Holdings as potential strategic investors in the network. The report said Harbinger is looking to secure between $1 billion and $2 billion in equity and bank financing to get the project off the ground.
Ahuja ran Orange from 2004 to 2007, and could bring the venture added credibility in the wireless market. He could also scare up the investors needed for a network estimated to cost around $6 billion. However, according to the WSJ report, Harbinger's negotiations with Qwest and SK Holdings are being held up because of disagreements over the size of the investments and related equity stakes, as well as disputes over the new venture's board.
A Harbinger spokesman told FierceWireless that "negotiations with a number of potential investors and strategic partners are continuing, and nothing has been finalized yet."
Since announcing its plans, Harbinger has been the target of fierce criticism from AT&T (NYSE: T) and Verizon Wireless (NASDAQ: VZ) over conditions placed on the spectrum Harbinger plans to use. In approving the merger of SkyTerra and Harbinger, the FCC approved a provision that requires SkyTerra to ask for approval before leasing capacity on the network to the "largest or second-largest wireless provider." Harbinger wanted this provision to be included. In addition, AT&T and Verizon are being forbidden from holding more than 25 percent of the spectrum. Verizon is the nation's largest wireless provider and AT&T is the second largest.
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