03.12.11

The virtual network operator?

Posted in ICO/DBSD, LightSquared, Operators, Regulatory, Spectrum, TerreStar at 1:31 am by timfarrar

Could LightSquared meet its buildout obligations to the FCC without doing any buildout?

Amazingly enough, that could be one potential interpretation of the way in which LightSquared’s March 2010 agreement with the FCC is written.

Condition 2. Without regard to satellite service, SkyTerra shall construct a terrestrial network to provide coverage to at least 100 million people in the United States by December 31, 2012; to at least 145 million people in the United States by December 31, 2013; and to at least 260 million people in the United States by December 31, 2015. For purposes of this Condition 2, “terrestrial network” shall mean the network comprised of: (a) SkyTerra’s L-band spectrum used by its terrestrial network; (b) other terrestrial spectrum that Skyterra is the licensee of or has access to under a spectrum manager lease or de facto transfer lease and deploys to provide the coverage and level of service requirements described in the paragraph 6; and (c) any other terrestrial spectrum that is used by SkyTerra’s terrestrial network or is made available to SkyTerra for pooling with its spectrum and that SkyTerra deploys to provide the Coverage and level of service requirements defined in paragraph 6. “Spectrum that is used by SkyTerra’s terrestrial network” means spectrum that is licensed to or controlled by a party other than SkyTerra that has been incorporated into the infrastructure of SkyTerra’s terrestrial network.

The only additional requirement is that this buildout “must be capable throughout the coverage area of providing speeds to end users at least at a level commensurate with deployments of terrestrial networks using “fourth-generation” (“4G”) technologies, such as the 3GPP Long Term Evolution (LTE) or Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (“WiMAX”) standards”. Thus LightSquared is entitled to count towards its obligations any buildout by Airspan in the 1.4GHz spectrum (under their agreement last August) or by Open Range (as announced yesterday) in what is most likely the 1670-75MHz terrestrial spectrum block that LightSquared also controls.

Most significantly, if Harbinger can strike a deal with MetroPCS this weekend, to make a joint bid for the TerreStar and DBSD spectrum, then any LTE buildout in the 2GHz band (presumably under a “spectrum pooling” agreement) could also be counted towards these obligations. Even if a buildout in the 2GHz MSS spectrum did not take place, then MetroPCS has its own LTE buildout in the AWS band and has expressed an interest in entering into a roaming agreement with LightSquared, which could potentially be counted as “other terrestrial spectrum that is used by LightSquared’s terrestrial network” depending on how the agreement was structured.

Once you realize that MetroPCS already has about 97M covered POPs (although not all of them yet have LTE) and that OpenRange was intending to cover 6M POPs (with an option to grow to 12M POPs) under its original agreement with Globalstar, it becomes pretty clear that LightSquared might be able to meet its December 31, 2012 deadline for covering 100M POPs without building out any of its own network coverage. Though that would probably not be the case for the buildout requirements in subsequent years, this highlights that Harbinger might well be able to find a way around LightSquared’s looming deadline next year, even if it isn’t able to fund a large scale deployment in the near future.

As a result, I’ll be very interested to see what happens with MetroPCS, Harbinger and Solus this weekend. DBSD stated on Friday evening that it expects to receive a bid “later today or over the weekend” and will file a report on Monday “to designate the leading bidder”. It seems the exact details of how any agreement with MetroPCS is structured could prove critical to where we go from here.

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