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Category Archives: LTE

When NTIA and FCC Pull the Plug on LightSquared, Will it Dim Sprint’s Network Vision?

What began as such a promising idea for a $7 billion nationwide broadband wireless network with 40,000 antenna sites may not receive the regulatory approval it needs to move forward. In a letter sent on Wednesday, The National Telecommunications and Information Administration updated the FCC on its latest independent evaluation of the negative impact of LightSquared on GPS services.

“We conclude that the LightSquared mobile broadband network will impact GPS services and there is no practical way to mitigate the potential interference at this time,” wrote Lawrence Strickling, NTIA assistant secretary for communications and information.

Last July, LightSquared entered into an agreement with Sprint where it promised to pay the carrier $9 billion to deploy its nationwide LTE network over the Network Vision infrastructure and would have received credits valued at $4.5 billion. In October, Sprint accelerated deployment of Network Vision, which consolidates multiple network technologies into one seamless network. The demise of LightSquared leaves Sprint’s pocketbook quite a bit lighter and its spectrum-hosting business without an anchor tenant.

The FCC’s International Bureau, which had issued a conditional waiver order prohibiting LightSquared from operating until harmful interference issues were resolved, immediately released a statement that appeared to bow to the will of the NTIA.

“The NTIA, the federal agency that coordinates spectrum uses for the military and other federal government entities, has now concluded that there is no practical way to mitigate potential interference at this time. Consequently, the commission will not lift the prohibition on LightSquared,” said FCC spokesperson Tammy Sun.

The FCC is releasing this week a Public Notice seeking comment on the NTIA’s conclusions, proposing to vacate the conditional waiver order and suspend indefinitely LightSquared’s ancillary terrestrial component authority.

The FCC faced monumental challenges in attempting to allow terrestrial mobile communications on the satellite spectrum. Especially frustrating for the commission were the GPS receivers that pick up signals from uses in adjacent bands.

“There are very substantial costs to our economy and to consumers of preventing the use of this and other spectrum for mobile broadband,” Sun said. “Congress, the FCC, other federal agencies and private sector stakeholders must work together in a concerted effort to reduce regulatory barriers and free up spectrum for mobile broadband.” She called for better receiver performance standards as a way to more efficiently use spectrum.

Federal agencies decided earlier this week that they will develop new GPS spectrum interference standards for future proposals for non-space commercial uses of adjacent bands.

“NTIA recognizes the importance that receiver standards could play as a part of a forward-looking model for spectrum management even beyond the immediate use of GPS,” Strickling wrote.

In a sure sign that the end is nigh, Bloomberg Businessweek reports that Phil Falcone, whose hedge fund Harbinger Capital Partners invested $3 billion in LightSquared, is attempting to swap the spectrum, valued at $500 million by Skyterra, with the U.S. Department of Defense to salvage some of his investment. Since its subprime loan investments paid off handsomely five years ago, Harbinger’s capital has dropped from $26 billion to $4 billion.

Law Would Remove Local Control of Tower Collocations

The “Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012” passed by Congress last week had an amendment of great interest to the tower industry. It will streamline the process of modifying wireless by eliminating municipalities’ ability to deny modifications to wireless towers that don’t change the physical dimensions of the site. President Obama is expected to sign the legislation.

Under Section 6409, wireless facilities deployment, the amendment states, “Notwithstanding section 704 15 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 or any other provision of law, a state or local government may not deny, and shall approve, any eligible facilities request for a modification of an existing wireless tower or base station that does not substantially change the physical dimensions of such tower or base station.”

The bill could potentially speed up the process of upgrading cell towers with 4G equipment, unless municipalities find loopholes.

The amendment defined a modification as the collocation of new transmission equipment, the removal of transmission equipment and the replacement of transmission equipment. The new law, however, does not supersede the FCC’s requirements under the National Historic Preservation Act or the National Environmental Policy Act.

“Coupled with the FCC shot clock, the legislation represents a huge step forward in streamlining the local permit process for tower collocation and carrier technology upgrades,” said Christopher Fisher, attorney and partner at Cuddy & Feder.

Although the legislation is a victory for the wireless industry, expect the municipality camp to set to work finding loopholes in the bill’s language.

Tim Gasser, project manager – wireless collocation at Puget Sound Energy, wasn’t that hopeful. “That doesn’t sound all that useful to me. Adding antenna or replacing with larger antenna can be portrayed as changing physical dimensions, i.e., exposed surface area. That gets you to arguing over what ‘substantially’ means,” he said.

The language in the amendment is too vague, according to Jonathan Kramer, an attorney who serves a municipal wireless consultant. For example, he notes that the term “wireless tower” is not defined.

“Absent some local government code definition to the contrary, a building with an existing cell site on it is not a wireless tower; a park light standard with an existing wireless cell site is not a wireless tower; a church steeple with a cell site inside it is not a wireless tower; a billboard with an existing wireless site is not a wireless tower; a mono-cross is not a wireless tower,” Kramer wrote on his blog. “In reality, relatively few physical structures should be called a ‘wireless tower,’ especially by governments.”

Kramer also notes that the term “base station” is not defined and asserts that the term “eligible facilities request” has three different meanings. He advises municipalities to review the terms in their wireless ordinances and make sure they are defined.

“A careful, informed, rational project analysis is absolutely required to ensure that governments are not granting collocations ‘by right’ where no ‘by right’ truly exists,” Kramer wrote. “Start by looking at your wireless ordinance. Does your ordinance contain a provision that actually defines a ‘wireless tower’ or a ‘tower’ or a ‘base station’? You are certainly going to want to review and likely tighten up those definitions to limit undesirable spillover.”

AGL Regional Conferences Introduction