LightSquared’s fledgling wholesale LTE network appears worth a look
Harbinger Capital Partners’ move to build a wholesale LTE network that will allow for terrestrial-only, satellite-only or integrated satellite-terrestrial services should be an interesting proposition for a public-safety community that’s in need of ubiquitous high-speed data services.
The firm created a new venture called LightSquared, which acquired mobile satellite services (MSS) firm SkyTerra earlier this year. It plans to use MSS spectrum, ancillary terrestrial component (ATC) spectrum and terrestrial-only spectrum — supplemented by spectrum hosting and pooling agreements (with all of the necessary roaming provisions) — to swiftly roll out a network that will cover all major markets by the end of the second quarter 2013.
This week Harbinger awarded a massive eight-year, $7-billion contract to Nokia Siemens Networks to build and manage the nascent LTE network, which is expected to be launched in the second half of 2011. Moreover, LightSquared indicated it secured $1.75 billion in debt and equity financing, while Harbinger has contributed $2.9 billion.
LightSquared’s rollout timeframe is ambitious because of the conditions of its deal to acquire SkyTerra. Harbinger must cover at least 100 million points of presence in the U.S. by the end of 2012, 145 million POPs by the end of 2013 and 260 million POPs by the end of 2015.
In terms of deploying next-generation satellites that allow for the use of small form-factor mobile devices, Harbinger and SkyTerra plan to launch the first next-generation satellite between August and October this year, SkyTerra has indicated. A second next-generation satellite is scheduled to be launched late this year or during the first quarter of 2011.
SkyTerra already serves public safety by providing traditional voice and push-to-talk services, including mutual-aid radio talk groups (SMARTs) that offer P2T (one-to-one and one-to-many) communications.
In a press release announcing its deal with NSN, LightSquared indicated that it plans to build on SkyTerra’s record of public-safety services support. “LightSquared will help solve some of the communications and public-safety issues we’ve seen during recent national disasters, as well as provide connectivity in rural markets where there is currently no reliable wireless communication,” said LightSquared Chairman and CEO Sanjiv Ahuja. “By using satellite coverage, we can ensure constant connectivity, even if the terrestrial network is not available.”
LightSquared’s new LTE network could play several interesting roles for the public-safety community. Obviously it will be able to connect first responders during emergencies when terrestrial radios won’t work, or when different agencies need to communicate with each other. The next-generation satellites will enable high-speed data connectivity in the same manner.
LightSquared’s wholesale component also could give public-safety more LTE spectrum that it wants, but may not get, from the 700 MHz band. Third parties that would cater to public safety also could emerge. Moreover, the FCC is taking steps to ease restrictions on the MSS spectrum in order to free up more airwaves for broadband deployments. As a result, MSS spectrum could effectively turn into another terrestrial band available for use by any carrier for mobile broadband services. This could lead to interesting scenarios, such as LightSquared completely turning over the development of the terrestrial network to a ground-based operator while it runs the satellite component.
At any rate, with LightSquared’s aggressive deployment schedule, public-safety may find an enticing LTE partner.
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