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LightSquared is a company that seeks to develop a wholesale 4G LTE wireless broadband communications network integrated with satellite coverage across the United States using a block of frequencies located near the band used by the Global Positioning System (GPS). However, the issue of interference (using high-powered ground transmitters in spectrum intended for low-powered signals from satellites) has caused problems.

On February 14, 2012, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) moved to bar LightSquared's planned national broadband network after being informed by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), "the federal agency that coordinates spectrum uses for the military and other federal government entities," that "there is no practical way to mitigate potential interference at this time."[1][2] LightSquared is challenging the FCC's action.

As of April, 2012, LightSquared was in negotiations with creditors to avoid bankruptcy.[3] It filed for bankruptcy on 14th May, 2012.[4]



LightSquared traces its roots back to 1988 and was known as American Mobile Satellite Corporation and later as Mobile Satellite Ventures after a merger between Motient Corporation and TMI Communications. It was most recently known as SkyTerra, a company that provided mobile satellite communications services. The company has operated in the North American market with two geostationary satellites since 1995. MSAT-2 is licensed in the United States and was launched in 1995. MSAT-1 is licensed in Canada and was launched in 1996.

LightSquared has received $2.9 billion in assets from Harbinger Capital Partners and affiliates, as well as more than $2.3 billion in debt and equity financing.[5]

LightSquared s SkyTerra 1 launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on November 14, 2010.[6] The satellite, one of the largest commercial satellites ever built,[7] was launched aboard a Russian Proton-M/Briz-M rocket,[8] weighs 5.4 tons, and carries the largest commercial reflector antenna ever put into space.[9]

Integrated 4G-LTE-Satellite Network

LightSquared plans to provide wholesale network capacity to wireline and wireless communication service providers; cable operators; device manufacturers; web players; and content providers.[10] LightSquared intends to sell its service to retailers and device makers, so that LTE wireless broadband service will be bundled into products.[11] The integrated 4G-LTE-satellite network also is expected to serve public sector projects including emergency preparedness and communications in times of crisis.[10] In July 2010 LightSquared announced its selection of Nokia Siemens Networks to build its network.[12]

The FCC sees LightSquared's plan as a way of enhancing competition and speeding the deployment of mobile broadband in the United States.[13] LightSquared could help smaller, regional wireless operators compete and provide nationwide 4G service to rural and underserved areas. It could also provide new entrants in the wireless market a chance to come up with new business models that change how consumers access wireless broadband services.[11]


LightSquared controls a block of the United States spectrum (1525-1559 MHz) in the L-Band. It received FCC authorization in November 2004 to use this spectrum to build a nationwide 4G-LTE wireless broadband network integrated with satellite coverage.. In January 2011, LightSquared received a conditional waiver allowing terrestrial-only use of this spectrum, which would result in a much larger number (40,000) of higher power base stations and present a greater GPS interference problem.[11] The spectrum allocated for the GPS "L1" signal by the FCC is 1559 to 1610 MHz.[14] GPS satellites orbit at an altitude of approximately 20,200 km (12,550 mi).[15]

Agreement with Inmarsat

LightSquared has a cooperation agreement with Inmarsat, another major spectrum holder in the L-band,[16] that increases the amount of contiguous spectrum over North America available to both companies. On January 28, 2011, LightSquared triggered an option to implement Phase 2 of the cooperation agreement which will add further capacity to its network. The agreements involve periodic payments to Inmarsat totaling $337.5 million for the first phase, and $115 million a year over 30 months for Phase 2.[17][18]

FCC authorization

On March 1, 2001, LightSquared's predecessor, Mobile Satellite Ventures applied to the FCC to use a "highly innovative and spectrum-efficient combination of spot-beam satellites and terrestrial base stations to substantially improve coverage, capacity, and reliability of mobile communications without using any additional spectrum."[19]

On January 26, 2011, The Federal Communications Commission granted LightSquared s Request for Modification of its Authority for an Ancillary Terrestrial Component. The conditional waiver allowed LightSquared and its wholesale customers to offer terrestrial-only devices rather than having to incorporate both satellite and terrestrial services.[20] "We find good cause to grant LightSquared a conditional waiver of Section 25.149(b)(4) of the Commission s rules for services provided by LightSquared using its MSS (Mobile Satellite Services) L-band spectrum, the FCC noted in its report.[21] The waiver was conditioned on resolving harmful interference to GPS.[1]

The FCC's modification order to allow terrestrial-only devices onto LightSquared's network was filed on November 19, 2010, with comments due on December 2, 2010, and reply comments due on December 9, 2010. This time frame had the US Thanksgiving holiday squarely in the middle of it, and allowed little official time for correspondence (six business days between filing and comments due, five business days between comments due and reply comments due). Several corporations and industry organizations felt that this was a major modification to LightSquared's MSS/ATC license, and wanted a 30-day comment period. An FCC spokesman said, "The FCC waiver approval granted to LightSquared was based on the merits of its proposal, following a process that included ample opportunity for comment."[22]

Companies that provide global positioning systems, in addition to the United States Air Force, the operator of the GPS system, opposed the FCC waiver, saying that more time was needed to resolve concerns that LightSquared's service might interfere with their satellite-based offerings. LightSquared has promised to work with GPS providers and give the FCC monthly updates on a resolution to interference concerns.[23]

In October 2011, LightSquared threatened to sue the FCC if its network is not approved.[24]

Of February 14, 2012, the FCC initiated proceedings to vacate LightSquared's Conditional Waiver Order based on the NTIA's conclusion that there was currently no practical way to mitigate potential GPS interference.[1]

Interference issues

In a January 12, 2011 letter to the FCC, National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) chief Lawrence Strickling said that LightSquared's hybrid mobile broadband services raise "significant interference concerns. Grant of the LightSquared waiver would create a new interference environment and it is incumbent on the FCC to deal with the resulting interference issues before any interference occurs. Several federal agencies with vital concerns about this spectrum band, including the Departments of Defense, Transportation and Homeland Security, have informed NTIA that they believe the FCC should defer action on the LightSquared waiver until these interference concerns are satisfactorily addressed."[25]

On February 17, 2011 former Deputy Secretary of Defense Bill Lynn, along with the head of the USAF Space Command, Gen. William L. Shelton, expressed concerns about potential GPS interference from the LightSquared network.[26]

On April 5, 2011, with respect to concerns raised by the U.S. GPS Industry Council and NTIA about LightSquared s MSS/ATC operations, the FCC states that LightSquared cannot commence offering a commercial terrestrial service until the FCC concludes that the harmful interference concerns have been resolved. They also emphasize that responsibility for protecting services rests not only on new entrants but also on incumbent users themselves, who must use receivers that reasonably discriminate against reception of signals outside their allocated spectrum. In the case of GPS, the FCC notes that LightSquared s operations have been anticipated for at least 8 years, at lower power levels which would seamlessly interoperate with satellite services.[27]

GPS receivers have relatively sensitive "front ends" because of the extremely weak signal strength,[28] generally have little filtering to further reduce the signal loss, and are subject to interference from high power signals in the L band, something made worse when an active antenna system containing a LNA is added to the system. When MSS/ATC (Mobile Satellite Service/Ancillary Terrestrial Component) operation was first proposed, the number of ATC transmitters was thought to be small, because it was part of an integrated system with the satellite.[29]

LightSquared has been coordinating with the other L-Band MSS providers in order to expand its spectrum, and now controls a nearly contiguous 20 MHz section through deals with other MSS providers, coordination with multiple international agencies, and the US FCC International Bureau.[30]

With the possibility of tens of thousands of base stations that transmit in the satellite-to-earth part of the L-band MSS spectrum closest to the GPS spectrum, the high power signals (typically 70 dBm) will interfere with far weaker GPS signals from space (typically 150 to 130 dBm at ground level).[31] The GPS receivers specs never intended to deal with this situation, so they will have problems.[32] However, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski stated on May 31, 2011 that "it should be no surprise to anyone involved in the LightSquared matter that the company was planning for some time to deploy a major terrestrial network in the spectrum adjacent to GPS," and that "all interested parties had ample time to comment in advance of these orders (granting the request to increase the power level of the base stations to the exact level the GPS industry is now criticizing). Indeed, the Harbinger/Skyterra license-transfer proceeding was pending at the Commission for nearly a year."[33]

Since 2002, LightSquared has worked with the NTIA and the GPS industry to avoid interference between LightSquared s network and GPS. LightSquared has agreed to operate its services within strict technical requirements. LightSquared s predecessor agreed with GPS industry representatives to protect GPS with more stringent out of band emission limits than those required by the FCC s rules.[34] Beginning in 2009, LightSquared has sponsored tests with both GPS navigation only devices and GPS capable phones. So far, such tests have shown very limited adverse impact on GPS as almost all receivers were resilient to predicted interference from LightSquared s operations.[35] This is in complete contrast to the results of testing conducted by Garmin International which found that widespread, severe GPS jamming would occur.[36] In addition, the FCC has initiated a process that hopes to ensure LightSquared s service will not interfere with GPS.[37] In order to resolve GPS interference concerns the FCC has established a working group composed of NTIA, other Federal agencies, the GPS community, and LightSquared to fully examine the potential for interference.[37] LightSquared has agreed that this process must be completed to the FCC s satisfaction before the company will offer commercial service.

At the level of GPS devices used for timing at CMRS base stations, throughout 2010, LightSquared successfully worked with the manufacturers of timing devices to design and implement a filter that eliminates interference for those CMRS base stations using GPS for timing.[35]

In a January 6, 2011 letter from LightSquared to NTIA chief Lawrence Strickling, LightSquared agreed to organize and lead an industry group major participants in the telecom and GPS industries, including chipset and device manufacturers, service providers, academic experts, user groups and others including the FCC and NTIA officials. This group will examine the issue of interference to GPS devices and will consider both short-term and long-term technical solutions to the issue. [38]

In June 2011, LightSquared unveiled a new plan for deploying its network which would use the lower frequency band of 1526-1536MHz (23MHz away from GPS) for the initial deployment and delay use of the upper band closer to GPS until a later date. They also proposed a 3dB reduction in the base station radiated power.[39]

On September 25, 2011, the company released an open letter claiming that tests requested by the FCC indicate that 99.5% of all commercial GPS devices would be compatible with LightSquared's network and that GPS manufacturers had recently developed technology that eliminates interference issues for the remaining 0.5% of devices that are categorically used for high-precision purposes.[40]

Controversy and Congressional committee investigation

On September 15, 2011, Representative Michael Turner (R-Ohio) asked the United States House Oversight and Government Committee to investigate LightSquared under the premise that the Federal Communications Commission waived a rule for LightSquared because Harbinger Capital's Philip Falcone had made sizable campaign contributions to President Barack Obama.[41]

LightSquared responded to Congressman Turner s letter by noting that the size and scope of LightSquared s network, including the number of towers it would be allowed to construct and the allowable power levels, were approved back on February 25, 2005 under the Bush Administration. [42] The Federal Election Commission has no record of Phil Falcone, a registered Republican, nor LightSquared Chairman and CEO Sanjiv Ahuja of having ever contributed to President Obama s political campaigns.[43] However, since 2007, Philip Falcone has donated $50,500 to the Democratic Senatorial campaign Committee (and $85,500 to Republicans). Both Falcone's wife and LightSquared CEO Ahuja donated $30,400 to the DSCC (Ahuja gave the same amount to Republicans).[44][45] President Barack Obama himself invested $90,000 in LightSquared in 2005 but sold his stock for a $13,000 loss 8 months later.[46]

Among the issues being raised is if political contributors and investors received favorable treatment by the Obama administration. An Air Force General claimed in a closed congressional hearing that he had received political pressure to soften his testimony regarding the negative effects of LightSquared technology. [47][48] However, the General's spokesperson has denied there was any improper influence and said that the General's testimony was reviewed appropriately by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and other executive agencies via the established OMB (Office of Management and Budget) process.[49]

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking minority member on the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, has also asked Falcone and Sanjiv Ahuja, CEO of LightSquared, to disclose their contacts with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the White House and other government agencies.[50]


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