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Ligado Presses FCC to Act on 5G Spectrum Plan

Jeff Baumgartner
6/25/2019
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Ligado Networks, a wireless company once known as LightSquared, is urging the FCC to get off its duff and approve a long-standing license modification proposal tied to Ligado's plan to use 40MHz of lower mid-band spectrum for 5G services.

Ligado filed a Section 7 petition with the Commission aimed at accelerating the FCC's ongoing review of the company's license modification plan, highlighting the work that's been done in recent years to resolve the technical issues and to nudge the FCC toward a decision. Ligado, which has been running short on cash even as its existing satellite communications business continues ahead, filed its application linked to its 40MHz-based proposal on Dec. 31, 2015.

"We have participated in testing, analysis, studies, workshops, reviews, and meetings, and time after time, we have accepted the burden to resolve concerns by modifying our plan," Ligado CEO Doug Smith said in a statement. "But we can only wait so long -- especially when we are no longer debating substance -- technology led by the smartphone industry resolved that nearly a decade ago -- but waiting because of politics. Industries in need of spectrum simply cannot wait any longer. Ligado cannot wait, and the U.S. will not win the 5G race by waiting."

Smith argued that inaction at the FCC puts the US "in danger of losing the [5G] race" to countries such as China and South Korea.

The FCC declined to comment on Ligado's Section 7 petition.

If approval is granted, Ligado plans to use 40MHz of licensed spectrum for national critical infrastructure services, including custom, private industrial IoT networks -- a market that Dish Network is also planning to target with its planned narrowband IoT network.

"No other band under consideration is as ready to deploy in the near-term," Smith said, arguing that his company's application "remains trapped in a web of government delays and indecision."

Ligado is also an advocate of a proposal underway at the FCC to reallocate spectrum in the 1675-1680MHz band, hoping it can acquire access to that 5MHz chunk of spectrum and combine it with the 35MHz of spectrum (called the L Band) that's at issue with Ligado's license modification application. Ligado has already reached deals with GPS companies that caused trouble for LightSquared.

Speaking on a press call Tuesday, Ligado Chief Legal Officer Valerie Green said the company would be interested in participating in an auction for that piece of spectrum but requires more certainty from the FCC before the company can commit to being an "enthusiastic bidder" for that spectrum.

Today, that band is allocated to Meteorological Aids and Meteorological Satellite services. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) uses the band for weather tracking and monitoring. Ligado is asking the FCC to "move swiftly" to adopt rules and proposals to open the band for auction, including a proposal that the FCC use a nationwide license area for that spectrum rather than using a partial economic areas (PEAs) model.

Ligado stressed that it could move rapidly on its 5G-facing plans once approval is given, but sidestepped questions on exactly how it intends to fund the build out. However, Green cited the spectrum itself and partnership with Nokia and Ericsson as prime resources for its plans.

"None of that can happen unless the FCC moves forward to approve our license modification application," she said.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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