Going nuclear?

Posted in Financials, Globalstar, Inmarsat, LightSquared, Operators, Regulatory, Spectrum, TerreStar at 8:49 pm by timfarrar

In my last post I estimated that to in order to relocate and preserve precision GPS service for farmers and surveyors there might need to be a “delay of several years” before LightSquared was able to bring its lower 2x10MHz of spectrum into use in a terrestrial network. Indeed, according to one GPS industry commentator, a transition period of 12 years might be more appropriate to “allow a smooth transition with a manageable financial impact to the high-precision GPS user community.”

However, because of LightSquared’s prior assurances that it wanted to cooperate with the GPS industry to preserve existing services, no-one seems to have noticed that in fact the company does have a potential “nuclear option”, namely that because these services are provided on a commercial basis to Starfire and OmniSTAR, LightSquared and Inmarsat could simply decide to cease supporting these services in accordance with their capacity lease contracts. Given that LightSquared is now blaming the GPS industry for the interference problems and accusing GPS manufacturers of being unwilling to cooperate with its attempts to find a solution, it seems increasingly plausible that LightSquared could now say that it simply can’t continue to support these services unless the FCC mandates a rapid transition of precision GPS users to new equipment equipped with filters.

LightSquared (which provides capacity to OmniSTAR, now owned by Trimble) has previously indicated that it only plans to support its legacy services in “emulation mode” for a limited period of time, and it appears likely that the contract with OmniSTAR could therefore potentially be terminated at relatively short notice. While Inmarsat’s contract with Starfire may not operate under quite such a short time horizons, many of Inmarsat’s leases are renewable on an annual basis and so could possibly be terminated if desired. In reaching such a decision, Inmarsat would have to decide whether it prefers the ~$1M or so it receives each year from Starfire to the $115M it is being paid each year by LightSquared (indeed it is conceivable that this issue may have been addressed in the deal under which Inmarsat was paid an additional $40M by LightSquared earlier this year).

Some might argue that the FCC would surely step in to prevent such damage to precision GPS services. However, in March 2010 when it granted LightSquared the requested modifications to its ATC license, the FCC explicitly stated that it would refrain “from interfering unnecessarily with licensees’ business negotiations” even though “this may present challenges to earth station operators using the satellites involved, and may require modification of operations, deployment of new equipment, or other adjustments” because “it would not serve the public interest for the Commission to assume the role of an arbiter of disputes between a satellite operator and its customers.” Nevertheless, the FCC did leave itself one potential escape route, stating that it would not step into such disputes “in the absence of a prior determination that the satellite operator provides essential service and is unconstrained by actual or potential competition from providers of substitutable services.”

Of course, if the FCC did step in and force LightSquared to continue providing precision GPS services, then that might provide grounds for LightSquared to sue for compensation, especially if that was determined to be the main roadblock to offering commercial service in its lower L-band spectrum. As I’ve noted before, ending up in court certainly seems to be an increasingly plausible outcome to what the Economist describes as this “sorry tale of greed, haste and incompetence.”

As an aside, LightSquared does not seem to be the only MSS operator whose ATC services face interference challenges. A recent comment on one of my older blog posts highlighted that Open Range has been getting into difficulties with its use of Globalstar’s S-band spectrum in Indiana. Additionally, if LightSquared’s use of ATC handsets at 1627-1637MHz is a major concern for GPS users in the 1559-1610MHz band, then one would have to expect even greater concern about any future ATC deployment within Globalstar’s L-band spectrum at 1610-1617.775MHz (note that Open Range only uses Globalstar’s S-band spectrum in a TDD architecture). Similarly, there are now a number of comments in the 2GHz proceeding about the potential interference challenges at the bottom end of the TerreStar uplink spectrum (2000MHz).


  1. ORBITRAX said,

    August 20, 2011 at 6:49 am

    > A recent comment on one of my older blog posts highlighted that Open Range has been getting into difficulties with its use of Globalstar’s S-band spectrum in Indiana.<

    Oh! Please. A bit of sensationalism these days on behalf of the SBE/EIBASS? A problem that could be solved simply via the FCC's suggest frequency coordination with the relatively few grandfathered A10 BAS licensees. However, the SBE wants nothing to do with remedies such as coordination and have their own political agenda to attend to.

    This would be similar to Lightsquared only having a problem was with 100 or so High Resolution GPS Receivers in a few markets scattered across the US? But, unlike GPS, these BAS users have other available spectrum choices.

    The SBE/EIBASS seems to indicate that Open Range operating under STA is no longer "co-primary' in BAS A10, and that coordination is not required.

    Globalstar's ATC in the "L Band" has always been seen to employ FDD paired spectrum, with L Band as the reverse link. So the lower power density user terminals would occupy the L-Band, and the forward link would occupy the S-Band.

    The GPS community has positioned themselves as "Pro-MSS/MSS/ATC" and that they do not wish to deny access to previously authorized and coordinated operations between MSS/ATC and GPS bands, but more so to protect GPS from recently "minted" FCC waivers that will disaggregate Terrestrial/ATC and Satellite spectrum in the L Band and effectively convert the L Band from primary "space" to primary "terrestrial".

    However, recent filings from the GPS community now begin to raise the specter that lower power MSS/ATC user terminals themselves may produce interference profiles that inhibit GPS operational integrity. Licensed operations that the GPS community never raised concerns about before this proceeding. Hence, the GPS community may now be playing into Lightsquared's publicity campaign, that the issue is not about "interference resolution", but more so about the GPS industry's goal is to ultimately remove MSS/ATC operations from the L-Band and hence providing a "guard band" to GPS. It is in this commenters opinion that the GPS industry may have crossed a line that they may later wish they had not crossed, as it may now be seen that Lightsqured is indeed "the victim".


  2. dane1234 said,

    August 20, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    First, understand that SBE and EIBASS are separate entities.

    The Open Range STA was clear that the operation was secondary, and if Open Range caused interference, which the FCC has now officially found to be the case, Open Range was required to immediately shut down. In it’s reply to the FCC Notification of harmful interference, Open Range admitted that it had failed to frequency coordinate.

    Of the top ten cities Globalstar indicated in its 2005 application that it wanted to deploy S-band MSS ATC, seven have extensive grandfathered TV Pickup A10 operations. A10 is still widely used by broadcasters in the major metros; for example, in Los Angeles KCAL-TV uses A10 as its home channel for ENG operations. In Chicago, where the Open Range interference occurred, WBBM-TV and WGN-TV hold TV Pickup licenses with A10 grandfather rights.

    Between co-primary users, the newcomer is obligated to protect the incumbent. Mobile ENG and MSS ATC cannot share the same spectrum in the same area at the same time. That’s why frequency coordination wasn’t a solution at 2 GHz, and thus the FCC had to refarm the 2 GHz TV BAS band from 1990-2110 MHz to 2025-2110 MHz, to clear the bottom 35 MHz for CMRS use.

    Until the FCC similarly refarms the 2.5 GHz band, as proposed by SBE in 2004, the existing, non-trivial use of 2483.5-2500 MHz by earlier-in-time, co-primary grandfathered A10 licensees will preclude co-channel S-band MSS ATC in most of the major markets.

  3. Eric Gakstatter said,

    August 22, 2011 at 9:44 am

    Hi Tim,

    Indeed, I’ve thought about the “nuclear option” and the LightSquared marketing guy has implicitly flexed that muscle . However, recall that Trimble bought OmniSTAR land assets just a few months ago. I’m not privy to the details of that acquisition, but I have to believe that Trimble due diligence folks would have looked at this issue in detail since LightSquared is the OmniSTAR satcom bandwidth supplier.

    Inmarsat/Deere. My guess is that Deere locked down Inmarsat into a long-term contract, probably doing a better job than the FAA did with Inmarsat on AOR-E.

    Regarding the ORBITRAX comment above, MSS user terminals have always been an issue (eg. Iridium), but since there’s only 300,000 Iridium units and being used mostly in remote areas, their impact is minor. There is a vast difference between 300,000 Iridium terminals being used in remote areas vs. 260,000,000 LightSquared mobile devices being used everywhere. It even goes beyond that when you consider other GNSS (GPS-like) systems from Russia, Europe and China. It’s a complex technical issue, and one that LightSquared and FCC still don’t understand and one that has huge economic impact.

  4. ORBITRAX said,

    August 24, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    dane1234 states

    Yes, your statement reaffirms exactly what I stated. The goal of the SBE and EIBASS is not to work in the spirit of coordination as envisioned by the FCC to enable co-primary operations for the few grandfathered licensees of BAS A10. Of which A10 is one of the various available options for TV Pickup licensees in these markets.

    For MSS/ATC at 2.5Ghz. There is no real alternative.

    Other markets without A10 grandfathered licensees appear to frequency coordinate perfectly fine with the available (non A10) BAS channels. But, as you pointed out. The political agenda, which is worded in your statement much more like a threat, “UNTIL THE FCC SIMILARLY REFARMS THE 2.5 GHZ BAND, as proposed by the SBE in 2004, the existing, non-trival use of 2482.5-2500 Mhz by earlier-in-time, co-primary grandfathered A10 licensees WILL PRECLUDE CO-CHANNEL S-BAND MSS ATC, IN MOST MAJOR MARKETSi.

    Doesn’t sound like the spirit of “frequency coordination” between the two parties, as espoused by the FCC in the rule making regarding MSS/ATC/A10. but more like a “political agenda” at work here. More so, your comments here only affirm the suggested political agendas that appear to echo the concept. “Refarm the 2.5Ghz BAS band as we desire, or there will be no “coordination”.

    With the clout of the Broadcast Lobby greatly diminished, and heavyweight group owners like McGraw Hill heading for the doors in ever increasing numbers.

    I personally thinK the SBE will be on the losing end of that battle.


  5. dane1234 said,

    August 25, 2011 at 9:22 am

    The problem with the argument that S-band MSS ATC can share spectrum with co-channel ENG operations is the claim that there are only a few grandfathered A10 stations. Both SBE and EIBASS have pointed out that this is a flawed assumption. There are extensive grandfathered A10 ENG operations in seven of the top-ten cities where Globalstar said in its 2005 MSS ATC application that it wanted to first deploy. This is why “frequency coordination” won’t work in those markets. The FCC realized long ago that ENG and CMRS couldn’t share spectrum; for that reason, the Commission re-farmed the 2 GHz TV BAS from one 17 MHz wide and six 18 MHz wide analog ENG channels at 1,990-2,110 MHz to seven 12-MHz digital ENG channels at 2,025–2,110 MHz, thus freeing up 1,990-2,025 MHz for CMRS use. (If your wondering how seven 12-MHz wide digital channels take up 85 MHz, it’s because of the SBE proposal to also create 0.5-MHz data return link (DRL) bands at 2,025-2,025.5 MHz and 2,109.5-2,110 MHz; the lower and upper DRL bands in turn each have twenty 25-kHz wide narrow band channels. The FCC adopted this SBE proposal in its entirety.)

    EIBASS and SBE have been diligent in filing timely petitions for reconsideration of the A10 vs. S-band MSS ATC issue in the various FCC rulemakings involving A10; that is, ET Docket 95-18; ET Docket 00-258; IB Docket 01-185; IB Docket 02-364; WT Docket 02-353; WT Docket 03-66; WT Docket 04-356; and most recently ET Docket 10-142. In the March 20, 2008, WT Docket 03-66 Third Order on Reconsideration and Sixth MO&O and Fourth MO&O and Second FNPRM and Declaratory Ruling (how’s that for a mouthful?), the Commission acknowledged the A10 sharing problem, and stated “We defer consideration of this matter to a separate decision.” So the A10 matter is still a pending, unresolved issue.

    The suggestion that grandfathered A10 licensees can simply use one of the other 2/2.5 GHz channels (A1–A7 at 2 GHz, A8–A9 at 2.5 GHz) ignores the fact that in the major markets those other ENG channels are already heavily used. Broadcasters have turned the real-time sharing of these limited number of channels into an art form, and should be applauded for using that resource so efficiently. Whereas MSS ATC base stations would be triggered by subscribers using their handsets, so how would it ever be possible to do the real-time frequency coordination that broadcasters currently do amongst themselves? SBE and EIBASS have asked this question repeatedly, and keep getting a vague “channel sharing through frequency coordination” response from MSS ATC proponents.

    Sharing of the 2 GHz TV BAS band with NASA, and sharing of the 2.5 GHz TV BAS with POFS, has worked because in each case those other users have direct control over their stations; that is, broadcasters have shown that they are willing to share spectrum where it makes sense. It doesn’t make sense for A10 vs. a co-channel MSS ATC, though, and that’s why refarming the 2.5 GHz TV BAS band, to eliminate the co-channel operation, and as proposed by SBE in 2004, is such a good solution. Then MSS ATC can keep its 2,483.5–2,500 MHz. But, under the ET Docket 92-9 “emerging technologies” policy, the newcomer (MSS ATC) is obligated to pay all reasonable and prudent relocation costs of the incumbent (grandfathered A10). This is what Sprint Nextel did for the 2 GHz TV BAS refarming. But MSS proponents don’t want to incur that expense, and so hold to the fiction that no re-farming is needed, courtesy of the frequency coordination fairy.

    Finally, MSS got its 2/2.5 GHz spectrum for free, under the just-mentioned ET Docket 92-9 policy; that is, unlike other CMRS carriers, MSS hasn’t paid a dime in spectrum auction fees. Well, the art of ex parte lobbying at the FCC is to convince the Commission that all you are asking for is a fair advantage.

  6. ORBITRAX said,

    August 25, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    “There are extensive grandfathered A10 ENG operations in seven of the top-ten cities where Globalstar said in its 2005 MSS ATC application that it wanted to first deploy. This is why “frequency coordination” won’t work in those markets.”

    So it is managed in the available BAS bands/channels in 3 of the top-ten cities outlined by Globalstar, which do not have ‘grandfathered’ A10 licensees. But, it is not possible in the other 7?

    74.602 clearly shows the future of A10. No applications, or modifications to increase the number of A10 users. ET Docket 10-142 R&O didn’t even mention BAS A10.

    As you point out, “It doesn’t make sense for A10 vs. co-channel MSS ATC”. As it creates great inefficiencies in spectrum management, and reuse for the exclusion of MSS ATC for the benefit of a handful of grandfathered A10 licensees.

    The FCC continues to basically “ignore” the cries of EIBASS amid the threats that MSS/ATC will be relegated to some sort of “secondary” status and MSS/ATC deployments in markets with A10 licensees will be hobbled.

    As I have maintained. A10 grandfathered “co-primary” is little more than a “political agenda” which attempts to threaten MSS/ATC, if a given set of regulatory changes are not granted.

    Open Range recently applied for yet an additional 180 day STA, to continue operating on Globalstar spectrum until April 2012. We have been told that the FCC IB will reinstate Globalstar ATC upon completion of the fourth launch, now scheduled for December 15th.

    “Finally, MSS got its 2/2.5 GHz spectrum for free, under the just-mentioned ET Docket 92-9 policy; that is, unlike other CMRS carriers,”

    You do realize that the 850Mhz cellular incumbents like ATT/Airtouch/BAM/Bell South received their initial cellular authorizations “for free”? Congress did not mandate “incentive auctions” until the mid-1990′s The FCC’s licensing scheme (BTA’s) and buildout requirements require a convoluted disaggregation scheme for a small rural community like St. John, IN located in the Chicago BTA78 to be serviced by a competitive rural carrier. Any license holder that pays for BTA78 has little financial incentive to provide coverage to a community like St. John, as it has buildout and coverage requirements that require them to concentrate CapEx on the denser population areas. Yes, MSS hasn’t paid a dime in spectrum auction fees, neither has any FSS providers outside of DARS.


  7. dane1234 said,

    August 27, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    The failure of the ET 10-142 R&O to even address the A10 issue was the basis for the EIBASS petition for reconsideration. While applications for new A10 stations are no longer accepted, major change modifications to grandfathered A10 stations, to add digital modulation, are allowed. Although a grandfathered A10 may not increase it’s operational area or increase the number of transmiters, the FCC quit tracking the number of transmitters that a TV Pickup license authorizes when it converted from Media Bureau Form 313 to Form 601 in the ULS, administered by the Wireless Bureau. This happened at least twenty years ago. For metros with no grandfathered A10 operations, S-band MSS ATC shouldn’t be a problem as far as BAS is concerned. It’s news to me that Globalstar has deployed S-band MSS ATC in any market.

  8. ORBITRAX said,

    August 29, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    Like I said.. Much a’do about nothing in reality.

    Most of the even larger markets have only 1 or 2 A10 grandfathered licensees. The exceptions being New York, Los Angeles, Phoenix. For A10 licensees in markets 10-40 like Jacksonville, Tulsa, Lexington, etc. I doubt that the loss of A10 through “coordination” will result in any operational efficiencies. Or at least efficiencies that a a medium market broadcaster is going to put up a fight for. The failure of the FCC to address A10 in ET10-142 should be taken as a omen in our opinion..

    With the decay in the influence of the once mighty and powerful Broadcast Lobby, and the rise to center stage of Wireless Broadband and the oft mentioned and maligned “spectrum crisis”. The death of A10 can be read like an obituary in ET 10-142 R&O.

    And so it goes,

  9. timfarrar said,

    August 29, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    What is most interesting to me is that in Globalstar’s latest filing (http://fjallfoss.fcc.gov/ecfs/document/view?id=7021705639), they disclaim all responsibility for Open Range’s actions, stating that “these terrestrial services are entirely separate and independent from Globalstar’s operations in the Big LEO MSS band, and Open Range’s conduct under this STA is outside of Globalstar’s control and regulatory responsibility”.

    That is presumably because Open Range have now aligned themselves with LightSquared, but it is somewhat surprising that Globalstar apparently does not have any control over Open Range’s actions, because if Open Range’s STA is extended into next year, Open Range’s network could at least in theory interfere with Globalstar’s own satellite (or even its future ATC) operations.

    It also doesn’t sound much like Globalstar wants a new agreement with Open Range once Globalstar’s ATC authority is renewed (if the LightSquared arrangements fall through). Could Open Range really go on using Globalstar’s spectrum for terrestrial services semi-indefinitely under its own STAs (notably without any payment to Globalstar, because all the STA lease payments go to the Treasury)? Perhaps the current arrangement would terminate if and when Globalstar’s ATC authority is restored, but in that case what happens if Globalstar and Open Range can’t reach a new spectrum lease agreement?

    UPDATE: Given the latest news, perhaps Globalstar is assuming Open Range won’t be around much longer anyway?

  10. timfarrar said,

    September 6, 2011 at 10:54 am

    The EIBASS reply comments filed today attach copies of the enforcement action taken against Open Range. Its interesting to see that Open Range said it “has not coordinated its base stations to date” and was then told it should have done so (because a later letter reported that it was “now in the process of coordinating its existing base stations”).

    I’m therefore puzzled who took responsibility for this coordination obligation under the original agreement between Open Range and Globalstar, especially given that Open Range rolled out its network to cover around 500K households before the Globalstar ATC license was suspended in September 2010.

  11. TMF Associates MSS blog » Coyote ugly… said,

    September 15, 2011 at 10:57 am

    [...] by either OmniSTAR (owned by Trimble) or Starfire (owned by John Deere). Given that OmniSTAR is the service that relies on LightSquared capacity, that sounds to be the more likely of the two, and one might therefore think that Trimble VP Jim [...]

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.