Is LightSquared’s proposed spectrum “swap” running into the sand?

Posted in Globalstar, LightSquared, Operators, Regulatory, Spectrum at 12:16 pm by timfarrar

Yesterday, two interesting pieces of news emerged relating to LightSquared’s proposal that it should be granted “shared” access to the 1675-80MHz band in exchange for giving up “rights” to operate a terrestrial network in the 1545-55MHz spectrum block, which is closest to GPS and caused the biggest concerns during the 2011 testing.

The first of these was the GAO report on options to improve receiver performance mandated in the JOBS bill last February in response to the LightSquared debacle. Both this report and an associated paper by the FCC’s Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) published earlier this month suggest that the FCC should do more to explore setting “harm claim” thresholds at which receiver manufacturers could assert that a new service was causing interference. Spectrum bands in which these thresholds could be trialled are identified, but unfortunately for LightSquared, no mention is made of the L-band/GPS band boundary (and the rationale given for selecting a trial band appears to suggest that the LightSquareed spectrum would not be a good candidate for initial experimentation).

Instead, one of the leading candidates is Globalstar’s proposed S-band TLPS service, which perhaps explains Globalstar’s confidence that the FCC will soon move forward with an NPRM, despite the opposition Globalstar faced from the WiFi community, Clearwire and others in response to the TLPS proposal. On the other hand, the fact that such a proceeding would be an experiment to try and determine an appropriate interference threshold may well mean it would still be very difficult for Globalstar to undertake any large scale deployment in the near term or receive approval by the end of 2013 as Globalstar hoped.

The second, and more significant, development was an ex parte filing by LightSquared which documented a meeting on Wed Feb 20 between LightSquared’s regulatory lawyers and the FCC’s General Counsel and the Acting Chief of the FCC’s Office of Strategic Planning. Curiously, this meeting didn’t involve any technical personnel, despite the fact that the “much of the discussion” focused on “the proposed shared use of 1675-1680 MHz spectrum”. That seems to imply that the FCC was focused on the political problem associated with any perceived spectrum “giveaway” and appears to be confirmed by LightSquared’s offer that it would undertake “relocation of NOAA’s radiosondes…in a manner consistent with the Commission’s emerging technology and other applicable precedents”. In other words LightSquared offered to pay for this relocation.

Even that may prove insufficient, given that LightSquared’s proposed “sharing” with NOAA (based on exclusion zones around certain satellite receiving stations, after relocation of the radiosondes) actually involves even less sharing than will be needed in the 1695-1710MHz band, which has now been confirmed by NTIA as being suitable for auction. In the 1695-1710MHz band there will be protection zones around 18 satellite downlink sites, significantly more than the four locations (Fairbanks, AK, Wallops Island, VA, Suitland, MD, and Greenbelt, MD) that LightSquared would have to protect in the 1675-80MHz band.

As a result, it seems that the development of rules for interference limits at the L-band/GPS boundary is unlikely to be a high priority in the immediate future, and there are still major roadblocks to any spectrum “swap” involving the 1675-80MHz band. We will apparently soon see how much LightSquared is offering to pay for relocation of NOAA’s radiosondes, but if this spectrum is deemed just as suitable for auction as the 1695-1710MHz band, then that may be far from sufficient.

LightSquared now has a deadline of May 31 to come up with a plan to emerge from bankruptcy and after July 15 it will lose its exclusivity to propose a plan. However, if the FCC continues along the lines indicated yesterday, the main asset of the estate may end up being its legal claims, whether against Harbinger or the FCC.


  1. TMF Associates MSS blog » LightSquared’s Mexican standoff… said,

    March 21, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    [...] the FCC feels about LightSquared’s request for a so-called spectrum “swap”, as I noted last month when the FCC’s General Counsel summoned LightSquared’s lawyers to tell them that there [...]

  2. TMF Associates MSS blog » FCC budget shreds LightSquared’s spectrum swap proposal… said,

    April 12, 2013 at 10:22 am

    [...] news seems to confirm what happened at the February 20 meeting between the FCC and LightSquared’s lawyers, is that the FCC told Latham & Watkins that they were going to propose reallocation of the [...]

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