LightSquared cleared by FCC to build nationwide wireless network

cell tower

The LightSquared network has caused concerns that its place on the spectrum will interfere with GPS and emergency communications. Image: CC Jeff Kubina/Flickr

LightSquared is a mobile broadband start-up that the Federal Communications Commission hopes will offer consumers more options in the U.S. wireless market. LightSquared changed its original plan for a hybrid satellite/earthbound network to terrestrial only, which caused concern that it would interfere with GPS and emergency communications. An FCC waiver approved the change Wednesday, and LightSquared assured critics that interference would not be an issue.

Why LightSquared needs an FCC waiver

LightSquared has faced many hurdles in the race to compete with Verizon, AT&T and Clearwire. It won FCC approval for its plan to build a network offering wireless from both satellite and terrestrial technology last year. The FCC approved the LightSquared network on the condition that it be available to 100 million people in the U.S. by 2012 and 260 million by 2016. With one satellite in orbit and plans to launch another, it became apparent to LightSquared that it wouldn’t meet those FCC deadlines. The company asked for a waiver to its wireless licenses permitting it to launch its network solely with earthbound infrastructure.

LightSquared interference issues

LightSquared has been granted access to 59 MHz of radio spectrum. By 2015, it plans to complete a network of 40,000 cell towers to cover 92 percent of the U.S. population. However, industry groups have raised concerns that the portion of radio spectrum licensed to LightSquared is too close to other frequencies. They fear that as the LightSquared network grows, it will interfere with signals from GPS satellites and such things as maritime and aviation emergency communications. Aircraft makers Beechcraft and Cessna registered their concerns about public safety. Before the FCC waiver, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration told the FCC that  LightSquared’s terrestrial network, with more base stations than a terrestrial/satellite network, would increase chances of interference.

LightSquared shakes up the wireless market

LightSquared has pledged $7 billion over eight years in a deal with Nokia Siemens Networks to build and manage its network. It has committed $20 million for an industry study on interference. The company’s business plan includes selling space on its network wholesale to retailers and tech companies. The FCC waiver allows companies such as Apple and Sony to offer branded wireless services that compete with existing providers.



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