Ligado promises to move forward on 5G despite Pentagon opposition

Ligado's top executive said the company hopes to tweak 5G standards to align them with its spectrum holdings and to work with device makers to build gadgets for its planned IoT services.

Ligado CEO Doug Smith said the company wants to "create a new kind of network that uses the scale of technologies available to national carriers by offering licensed spectrum and network services to industrial companies that need purpose-built and secure coverage."

Concluded Smith: "We're ready to go. And we're excited to join with all of you in the service of our shared vision to make those goals a reality."

Smith made his comments at the Wireless Infrastructure Association's Connect (X) virtual trade show. The event is the premier annual gathering for companies in the cell tower industry – executives now apparently in Ligado's crosshairs.

Smith's remarks were also some of his first following the FCC's vote last month to allow Ligado to build a 5G network in its spectrum holdings. That action essentially lifted more than a decade of clouds hanging over the company.

However, the debate around Ligado continues. Following the FCC's vote, officials in the US Department of Defense led a spirited attack on Ligado, arguing that 5G operations in the company's L-Band spectrum holdings will affect GPS operations. Those are the concerns that sidelined Ligado (formerly LightSquared) since roughly 2010.

"The FCC's decision will disrupt the daily lives and commerce of millions of Americans and inject unacceptable risk into systems that are critical for emergency response, aviation and missile defense," argued Defense Secretary Mark Esper in a Wall Street Journal opinion article.

Siding with the Pentagon are Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The refreshed debate surrounding Ligado is that it does not fall neatly along political party lines. For example, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Attorney General William Barr both have publicly voiced support for Ligado's 5G plans.

And, according to Multichannel News, top Republicans in the House Energy and Commerce Committee are also urging the FCC to proceed with its efforts.

But the debate has grown increasingly contentious. For example, Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger – the pilot who famously landed US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River, and was portrayed by actor Tom Hanks – is firmly against Ligado's plans. He tweeted that the FCC's vote in support of Ligado is "wrongheaded and dangerous."

On the other side of the debate, a member of the WSJ's editorial board wrote that the Pentagon is a "900-pound crybaby," and that Ligado should be cheered for investing "years and millions of dollars to free a valuable slice of spectrum from the morass of special interests that keep a vital resource tied up in low-value, last-century uses."

All that said, most analysts don't expect Ligado to obtain the financial resources to build its own 5G network. Instead, they believe the company will eventually sell its spectrum to a buyer like Verizon.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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