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LightSquared 'Confident' of FCC Approval in 2012

Dan Jones
LR Mobile News Analysis
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor

LightSquared officials still believe that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will approve the launch of their Long Term Evolution (LTE) network next year.

That's despite the company being dogged by GPS industry opposition, government leaks and a need for money -- and there appears to be no Plan B, or at least not one that executives would discuss with reporters on a conference call Monday afternoon.

Disputes on the raw data
One purpose of the call was to dispute "this distortion of the truth," as Executive VP for Ecosystem Development Martin Harriman and General Counsel Curtis Lu put it. They were referring to Friday's leaked summary of results of tests conducted in November by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) .

What's in question are 92 commercial GPS handhelds ranging from low-end devices to the kind that first responders use. The summary leaked Friday said that up to 75 percent of current GPS receivers could be affected by LightSquared's proposed network. LightSquared has said (and Harriman reiterated on Monday) that this doesn't take into account LightSquared's move to reduce the transmit power of its network by 30 percent. (See LightSquared Lit Up About GPS Leak.)

LightSquared's conclusion is that the leak was intended to prejudice opinion against the company. "This came from someone inside the government process. It's an outrage, and LightSquared is very disappointed," Harriman said.

By LightSquared's reading of the data, only 14 of the 92 devices were affected by the LightSquared signal -- which is to say that these devices saw a 1dB increase in the signal-to-noise floors of their operations. The LightSquared people pointedly noted that this doesn't mean the devices were rendered inoperable or anything that dramatic, just that the affected devices started to notice the LightSquared signal.

On the call, Light Reading Mobile asked if LightSquared was not also now leaking information from the tests. General counsel Lu replied that this was just LightSquared's reading of the "raw data."

Official word on the testing is due out Wednesday.

"I'd like to think that the NTIA will not be recommending to the FCC that 59MHz of spectrum gets put back up on the shelf at a time of national spectrum crisis," Harriman commented.

What's Next?
Yet more testing lies ahead for LightSquared in 2012. The company expects to start testing high-precision devices in January. The crucial work could carry on into February.

LightSquared hopes to get final approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) before the end of the first quarter. After that, Harriman says that the company plans to "work at the speed of light" to deploy its LTE network with Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S). LightSquared officials are predicting that initial service will be launched nine months after approval.

That would be sometime in the fourth quarter of 2012, assuming no deadlines slip.

Is there a plan B?
LR Mobile and other reporters on the call repeatedly asked what LightSquared's fallback plan was if it didn't get this expected FCC approval. This didn't seem to be an unreasonable question, but neither Harriman nor Lu gave a direct answer. Harriman maintained that the company "has enough cash on hand to fund it through several quarters" and added that he's "confident" about getting the regulator's nod.

"The tide is on our side," Lu agreed.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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