Sprint extends lifeline to LightSquared until mid-March

Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) gave wholesale LTE provider LightSquared until mid-March to get FCC approval to launch service on its planned terrestrial network, giving LightSquared a little more time to resolve GPS interference issues with regulators.

Sprint had previously extended its deadline from the end of 2011 until Jan. 31. Last summer Sprint and LightSquared announced a 15-year, $9 billion network-hosting deal, whereby Sprint will build out LightSquared's radio access network as part of Sprint's own network upgrade (LightSquared will operate its own, separate core network).

"Sprint and LightSquared have agreed to extend our network agreement through mid-March," LightSquared spokesman Terry Neal said in a statement, according to CNET. "Sprint continues to support our business plan to bring wireless broadband to more than 260 million Americans and our ongoing efforts to work with regulatory agencies to resolve interference concerns."

In a statement, Sprint reiterated what it said in January, that it is no longer installing equipment for LightSquared's 1.6 GHz L-band spectrum on its towers as part of Sprint's Network Vision network upgrade project. The situation means that workers will have to go back to those towers at a later date to install LightSquared equipment if LightSquared is able to get approval from regulators--a potentially costly effort.

Sprint spokesman Scott Sloat declined to comment on the status of the agreement beyond the new extension.

Sprint's extension coincides with a recent FCC notice that also gave LightSquared more breathing room. The FCC said late last week that it will take public comment on a LightSquared petition until Feb. 27, with follow-up responses due by March 13. In December LightSquared petitioned the FCC to declare that GPS device makers are at fault for interference caused between LightSquared's L-band spectrum and GPS receivers, and that LightSquared, a licensed spectrum holder, should be allowed to launch commercial service as quickly as possible.

GPS device makers and a government GPS panel have argued that LightSquared's proposed terrestrial network will still cause harmful interference to GPS receivers, despite modifications LightSquared has made to its plan. LightSquared has, in turn, argued that the tests conducted by the panel, the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Executive Committee, were flawed and designed to make sure LightSquared's network failed the tests. Meanwhile, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration is still conducting its own GPS interference tests and will report its findings to the FCC.

For more:
- see this Dow Jones Newswires article
- see this CNET article
- see this IDG News Service article

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