A little known rural wireless broadband operator appears to be the key to filling out LightSquared’s nationwide LTE network that will use both terrestrial and satellite spectrum.

Open Range Communications recently signed a multi-year network partnership with LightSquared that enables it to lease LightSquared's L-band spectrum and sell its satellite capacity. The partnership also includes a nationwide reciprocal roaming arrangement, and the two firms will collaborate on the design, buildout and operation of Open Range's network, as well as on products and services.

Open Range is focusing primarily on rural markets, and it previously had a deal with Globalstar to bring WiMAX to underserved markets. But the company was dealt a blow in September when the FCC suspended Globalstar’s Ancillary Terrestrial Component (ATC). However, the commission continues to grant Open Range 60-day operating extensions until the company can find another spectrum partner. The company’s goal is to roll out service to 540 communities in 17 states thanks to a $267-million loan from the Department of Agriculture and private-equity firm JP Morgan.

Open Range CEO William Beans said that the company now is operating in 143 communities in 12 states with fixed WiMAX services. It is now in the position of having to continue its aggressive sales approach using WiMAX with an eye on transitioning to LTE.

Beans said that both companies have to figure out how the transition is going to work and when the technology might be ready. In the meantime, Beans said that the FCC will continue to give Open Range authority to use Globalstar’s spectrum until the new network is place. Rural connectivity is a key initiative for the commission.

Meanwhile, LightSquared has been cranking up the PR machine, despite the fact that the potential interference the network may pose to GPS has yet to be resolved and government agencies like the Department of Defense continue to voice their concern about it. LightSquared has announced wholesale/roaming deals with Leap Wireless and Best Buy, and continues to talk up the fact that it is in discussions with a number of potential partners.

LightSquared formed a working group in February with the U.S. Global Positioning System Industry Council to study the interference issues and has to report to the FCC regularly about its progress. A final report is due in June.

When I hear about all of the hoops that LightSquared has to jump through to make it to market — including the changes Open Range has to make and funding — I have to wonder what the future holds for the company. But it’s obvious the FCC is doing everything it can to make sure it succeeds.

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