FCC Could Move Soon on Ligado's Spectrum for 5G

The FCC may finally be making some headway toward releasing Ligado's spectrum for 5G and other uses, according to a new report.

Communications Daily, a publication that closely tracks the US regulatory space for telecommunications, reported this week that the FCC alerted the NTIA that it may issue a ruling soon on Ligado's spectrum. Both agencies help oversee the use of US spectrum. The publication noted that neither agency commented on the report, and Ligado officials declined to comment to Light Reading.

Nonetheless, action by the FCC on the topic could help bring closure to a decade-long debate over how Ligado's spectrum holdings should be put to use, including whether terrestrial operations in the company's spectrum holdings would interfere with things like GPS receivers, weather-monitoring stations and other technologies.

A long time coming
Ligado traces its corporate lineage to LightSquared -- backed by billionaire investor Philip Falcone -- which launched in 2010 with a plan to build a nationwide, wholesale LTE network using its L-Band spectrum that it would resell to other telecom operators or other companies. That plan fell apart after the FCC ruled the proposed network would interfere with GPS signals. LightSquared fell into bankruptcy and Falcone exited the picture, but Ligado arose from LightSquared's ashes in 2015 with a plan to build a 5G network using that same L-Band spectrum, but this time focused on the Internet of Things (IoT).

Since launching in 2015, Ligado has reached agreements with many of the GPS companies that brought down LightSquared. However, others continue to oppose the company's proposal to build a network in the L-Band, and Ligado continues to mostly spin its wheels while it waits for government action on its overall 5G plan.

Valuable spectrum
As the Wall Street analysts at New Street Research noted, Ligado is asking the FCC to allow it to operate a terrestrial network (rather than a satellite network) in up to 40MHz of spectrum across portions of the 1500MHz and 1600MHz bands. Those bands are widely considered ideal for 5G as transmissions in the spectrum would be able to cover wide geographic areas while also carrying significant amounts of data.

Importantly, the analysts noted that Ligado's holdings are relatively close to the CBRS and C-Band spectrum bands, and that could raise the value of Ligado's holdings among companies looking to accumulate complementary spectrum licenses.

As a result, the New Street analysts speculated that Ligado's spectrum could ultimately be purchased by a wireless network operator such as Verizon in order to add additional capacity to its LTE network, or by a cable company such as Charter Communications to use as a supplement to its Spectrum Mobile MVNO service.

Ligado has said that it plans to develop custom private 5G networks for the industrial sector using its spectrum -- though there is widespread speculation that the company could simply cash out of the industry altogether by selling its spectrum to the highest bidder, once its FCC entanglements are straightened out.

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

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