This article originally appeared in the Sept. 2010 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY
Remember when big companies like Microsoft and Motorola were pinning their hopes, and a whole lot of money, on satellite-based broadband? Well, things didn’t play out as they had hoped, but now satellite is getting a second look.
The Rural Utilities Service, one of the two federal agencies working with the FCC on the broadband stimulus effort, in May began accepting funding requests from those seeking to deliver broadband using satellite technology. It has $100 million set aside for satellite programs, which is particularly notable given that RUS in the past hasn’t funded satellite services. Then, in July, the Federal Communications Commission took steps to make additional spectrum available for mobile broadband, which the administration sees as key to the future of broadband expansion. What’s particularly interesting about this recent move is how satellite technology figures in to it.
The commission is looking at allocating spectrum in the 2gHz band, Big LEO band, and L-band for mobile satellite service. In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued this summer, the FCC puts on the table two proposals that would remove regulatory barriers to terrestrial satellite use and promote additional investments in the MSS bands. It proposes to add co-primary fixed and mobile allocations to the 2gHz band, and it discusses expanding existing secondary market policies and rules to address transactions involving the use of MSS bands for terrestrial services in an effort to create greater predictability in bands licensed for terrestrial mobile broadband service.
Globalstar Inc. is one of the companies interested in this new development. LightSquared (News - Alert), a new initiative stemming from SkyTerra Communications Inc.’s recent acquisition by an affiliate of Harbinger Capital Partners, reportedly is another.
“We are … encouraged by the FCC’s overtures to study and perhaps remove regulatory barriers to terrestrial use of MSS spectrum,” says Peter Dalton, CEO of Globalstar. “Globalstar is already fulfilling the FCC’s goal of ensuring that MSS spectrum is put to efficient and effective use for terrestrial broadband services through our ATC agreement with wireless broadband provider Open Range Communications, which has contracted to use both our L and S-band spectrum authority to deliver broadband services to all Americans.”
Globalstar is licensed by the FCC to use a total of 19.275mHz of its Big LEO spectrum (1610-1617.775/2483.5-2495mHz) for ancillary terrestrial component, or ATC, use. Open Range Communications, a WiMAX (News - Alert) service provider, began offering wireless broadband Internet services to subscribers in rural America in November 2009, and the company is expected to provide service to more than 200 rural communities by the end of 2010.
However, these new moves by the FCC could further expand Globalstar’s activities on this front.
Tony Navarra, president of global operations at the satellite service provider, recently told INTERNET TELEPHONY that language in the FCC’s National Broadband Plan should relieve some restrictions on satellite and enable Globalstar to use up to 25 megaHertz of its spectrum for rural communications throughout the U.S.
“Satellite operators must have spare satellites,” he explains. “They must have compatible billing systems. They must be able to have the subscribers that are on the satellite use the same handset or laptop device on the ground terrestrial system as well as on the satellite system.
“We expect that the FCC is going to relieve, or loosen up, some of these requirements, which is going to rapidly allow the use of the spectrum instantaneously, rather than having to build additional products that have what I call dual modality, meaning the modes of operation are for both satellite and ground.”
With such restrictions lifted, says Navarra, Open Range or a third carrier could put a Globalstar antenna on its tower and use the company’s satellite spectrum (but not the satellite network itself) to rebroadcast its signal to end users.
As for LightSquared, the company in July 20 aimed to make a big splash with its news that it had signed on Nokia Siemens Networks (News - Alert) to an eight-year agreement, $7 billion deal to deploy, install, operate, and maintain the LightSquared network. This network, LightSquared says, will be the “first-ever wholesale nationwide 4G-LTE (News - Alert) wireless broadband network integrated with satellite coverage [that] allows partners to offer terrestrial-only, satellite-only, or integrated satellite-terrestrial services to their end users.”
Sanjiv Ahuja (News - Alert) was recently tapped as chairman and CEO of the company, which has announced up to $1.75 billion in additional debt and equity financing. The company expects to provide wireless broadband capacity to a diverse group of customers, including retailers; wireline and wireless communication service providers; cable operators; device manufacturers; Web players; content providers; and others.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi