10.08.10

ATC: Now let’s see what it can do

Posted in Financials, Globalstar, LightSquared, Operators, Regulatory, Spectrum at 11:30 am by timfarrar

Although we remain intrigued by the timing of yesterday’s announcement of LightSquared’s chipset and device partners, what is now clear is that next year should finally result in the actual commercial deployment of an ATC network, offering both satellite and terrestrial mobile services for the first time. (Although Open Range had deployed a couple of thousand terminals under its agreement with Globalstar prior to the FCC suspending Globalstar’s ATC license, these did not include two-way functionality, and to date no handheld terminals had been produced).

LightSquared now claims to have raised over $2B, which the company expects will see it through to “operational launch and beyond” in the second half of next year. Although it is not clear where the $2B is coming from, and whether (as yet unannounced) vendor financing will form part of that $2B or could be incremental to it, it is certainly the case that with Harbinger apparently injecting funds from a $400M UBS loan in July, converting its reported $430M of debt into equity (as part of this week’s $850M debt refinancing) and presumably investing the proceeds from the sale of half of its Inmarsat stake (for $650M) in LightSquared, the company should have enough money both to pay Inmarsat for the ongoing rebanding of the L-band, and to fund the buildout of its first markets in 2011, an outcome that looked like a distant dream less than a year ago.

Given that there are no significant remaining technical barriers to overcome in deploying their satellite network, and LightSquared has commitments to produce both chipsets and ATC devices from leading manufacturers, it will be interesting to see next year both how the LightSquared network is positioned and what the public reaction is to the service. In particular, will LightSquared’s retail partners attempt to use satellite as a key differentiator, or will they rely just on the LTE offering to compete with Verizon, Clearwire, MetroPCS and others?

In the nearer term, we will also look forward to finding out exactly who these retail partners will be, and whether any of them will make a financial investment in LightSquared itself. In that regard, it appears that T-Mobile is certainly keeping its options open with regard to LightSquared, having filed at the FCC in support of relaxing the ATC gating criteria, which currently require all devices to offer integrated satellite and terrestrial services. Leap Wireless also appears to be looking closely at the ATC opportunity, having initially proposed this relaxation of the gating criteria. Whether T-Mobile’s actions are part of its negotiating strategy with Clearwire, or whether T-Mobile and Leap really are taking a potential investment in LightSquared seriously, remains to be seen.

10.07.10

Waiting for the other shoe to drop?

Posted in Financials, LightSquared, Operators, Spectrum, TerreStar at 9:17 am by timfarrar

Although Harbinger/LightSquared hasn’t yet got a terrestrial network to rival those of other cellular operators, it certainly has proved more than a match for them in its PR department, garnering significant positive coverage in recent months for its buildout plans, fundraising and potential partners, despite the doubts of many commentators.

However, its also the case that LightSquared has deployed its PR efforts very strategically, most notably when it announced the deal with Nokia Siemens Networks in July, straight after a skeptical article appeared in the WSJ. This week we also saw the announcement of further funding for LightSquared immediately preceding the decision to sell half of Harbinger’s stake in Inmarsat.

As a result, we’re left wondering if today’s announcement of a chipset partnership and initial device manufacturers, which also “paints a very positive picture for where LightSquared is going”, signals that there will be some bad news coming out soon. What might that be? Well as we’ve pointed out before, decision day is rapidly approaching for TerreStar, which could well involve a bankruptcy filing or other restructuring, and would certainly be another worrying sign for the MSS-ATC sector.

10.03.10

What happens in Alaska…

Posted in Handheld, Operators, Services, TerreStar at 7:41 pm by timfarrar

Its been known for at least a year that TerreStar’s Genus phone would need an external antenna to provide good performance in Alaska and most of Canada. TerreStar’s latest coverage map indicates this, and also recommends the use of the external antenna in Hawaii and Puerto Rico/US Virgin Islands as well.

We’ve now obtained a picture of the cradle and external antenna, which we understand will be announced soon, presumably once approval is received for this equipment from the FCC.

UPDATE: SatPhoneStore are now selling what is referred to as the Genus External Antenna and Sled for $265. Interestingly, the Genus phone itself is priced at $1150 (down from a “regular price” of $1299), suggesting that the wholesale price of the phone to distributors other than AT&T may be approaching $1000.

It looks like the Genus phone will be a rather harder sell if users need to buy a separate and relatively bulky external antenna to improve performance, so let’s hope that what happens in Alaska stays in Alaska.

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