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.