TLPS: Newly Minted FCC Licensed Mobile Satellite Wi-Fi Spectrum

Wireless Wonk

TLPS: Newly Minted FCC Licensed Mobile Satellite Wi-Fi Spectrum

By Barlow Keener, Attorney  |  March 17, 2014

TLPS stands for terrestrial low power service. TLPS is not a regulatory term but is used by Globalstar to describe the FCC’s (News - Alert) proposed new change to Rule 25 for mobile-satellite service providers’ use of low power ATC. Rule 25 defines the requirements for ATC equipment. ATC includes terrestrial wireless base stations and mobile devices licensed to a MSS provider that offers radio communication services together with MSS, allowing re-use of spectrum assigned for the satellite licensee’s MSS operations.  

The Nov. 1, 2013, FCC order proposed revisions to Rule 25 for ATC equipment. The order described “terrestrial low power system” ATC equipment.  The FCC proposes aligning Rule 25 covering licensed mobile ATC satellite spectrum with uses that are compatible with Part 15 unlicensed 2.4gHz Wi-Fi spectrum. Globalstar and the FCC hope that the new revisions to Part 25 will enable Globalstar to use licensed mobile satellite spectrum to deliver broadband to millions of new Globalstar-enabled Wi-Fi devices at any location, rural or urban, in the U.S.

Over the past 20 years, the FCC assigned spectrum licenses to satellite providers like Globalstar, Iridium, Lightsquared, and Dish. Globalstar was founded in 1991 by Qualcomm (News - Alert) and Loral. It is on its second life and now has 24 new communications satellites, 560,000 current MSS users, a $2.2 billion enterprise value, and $76 million in 2012 revenues. Iridum, founded in 1998, owns 66 satellites. Re-created in 2009, Iridium (News - Alert) has $383 million in 2012 revenue and 611,000 users.   Lightsquared, now in Chapter 11, has three satellites including the largest communications satellite and plans to use MSS and ATC to provide national cellphone service. Dish Networks acquired TerreStar (News - Alert) in 2008 and DBSD in 2009 to provide mobile satellite service.    

Everyone has heard about the future of satellite mobile service, but only a fraction of U.S. consumers use or know of the service. Satellite firms have tried and failed many times to get off the ground. However, this year, it seems that the satellite mobile providers including Globalstar are on the verge of success. 

What makes the Globalstar FCC order interesting is that if the FCC allows existing Wi-Fi devices to be changed with a software upgrade to operate in Globalstar’s spectrum, Globalstar can use the 22mHz of Wi-Fi Channel 14 in every Wi-Fi access router to deliver MSS ATC service. There are an estimated 80 million Wi-Fi access points. There are 100 million Wi-Fi enabled tablets in the U.S., and 250 million smartphones in the U.S. are Wi-Fi enabled. With the new FCC order, consumers will not need to purchase new mobile smartphone devices to use the Globalstar spectrum.  They will only need to sign up as subscribers similar to subscribing to Wi-Fi service at airports.  

Satellites transmit the radio signals down to consumers’ mobile devices on Earth. No cell towers are needed. Using ATC, the same licensed spectrum can be used to deliver the satellite voice broadband on the Earth by using cell towers, and now by using Globalstar-enabled Wi-Fi access points.  Globalstar satellites, using MSS, could deliver broadband to a mobile base station on the Earth, like an ATC Wi-Fi access point router, which then could re-transmit the satellite-delivered broadband to any smartphone using Wi-Fi.    

The FCC’s Globalstar order will give Globalstar the right to use 11.5mHz of licensed MSS spectrum in the upper 2.4gHz range (2.4835-2.495gHz) conjunction with adjacent unlicensed 2.4gHz spectrum (2.473-2.4835 gHz) to provide TLPS. Globalstar’s 2.4835-2.495gHz spectrum is also part of the highest Wi-Fi Channel 14 but subject to Part 25 licensed FCC rules. Thus, because 11.5mHz of the 22mHz Channel 14 is licensed spectrum, Wi-Fi devices using unlicensed spectrum have not turned on Channel 14. Unlicensed Bluetooth, on the other hand, needs only 1mHz or 2mHz, enabling it to use the 2.473-2.4835gHz part of Wi-Fi fractions of Channels 12, 13, and 14 that are below 2.4835gHz and subject to Part 15 FCC unlicensed rules.

The difference with Globalstar is that such Wi-Fi service could be delivered everywhere that Globalstar can place a Wi-Fi Globalstar-enabled Wi-Fi router. No wired backhaul is needed from cable or DSL. Globalstar has committed to deploying 20,000 free access Wi-Fi points for satellite-enabled broadband at schools and hospitals across the U.S. For public safety, a future Hurricane Sandy-level impact on 911 and on mobile phone communications could minimized.  

Barlow Keener (News - Alert) is the principal with Keener Law Group ( out of Boston.


Edited by Stefania Viscusi