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Lightsquared Looking to Make a Big Splash with 4G

Written on July 27, 2010

You may or may not have heard a bit of news a week ago about for formation of LightSquared, a new company that has big plans for the competitive industry of wireless mobile internet. As the era of 4G draws closer and closer, LightSquared is attempting to position themselves as a (or perhaps even the) go-to provider of 4G networks for wholesale purchase. Before we get into the meat of what LightSquared plans to offer, let’s try to clear up the muddled terms used to classify wireless networks – 3G, LTE, and 4G.

“3G” and “4G” are terms that are generally accepted and agreed upon, but how exact a definition you can apply to them depends on who you talk to. The International Telecommunication Union has a set of technical standards for a International Mobile Telecommunications Advanced (IMT-Advanced) network, and many use this definition for 4G.

Then there is LTE, or Long Term Evolution. This is the latest standard in mobile networks, and currently what all of the big telecom players are implementing. Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and others have all publicly announced or already begun implementing LTE networks for their mobile devices. Sprint Nextel has embraced WiMax, another LTE service. Most of these companies are promoting and advertising these upcoming services as their 4G networks – despite that these networks may not technically qualify under the ITU 4G standards. “Pre-4G” might be the more appropriate name.

LightSquared’s twist on this is their “4G LTE” network. Whether or not their network meets all the ITU qualifications for 4G remains to be seen, but LightSquared promises their network will offer over 90% coverage to the US by 2015. The important part of their network is the nature of the “wholesale only” position. LightSquared will sell their network to ISP’s, retailers, mobile carriers, and purportedly anyone else in a position to provide wireless access to a customer base.

LightSquared’s CEO, Sanjiv Ahuja, is nothing if not ambitious. “LightSquared will be a disruptive force in the U.S. wireless landscape by democratizing wireless broadband services,” said Ahuja in the company’s formal announcement. “We’re providing everyone, including underserved communities, with a fast, reliable experience regardless of where they are located in the United States. This network will return our country to its rightful position as a leader in wireless broadband technology and solidify its reputation as the center of global innovation.”

The FCC has given LightSquared the green light on LightSquared’s hybrid-satellite network, a 7 billion-dollar investment with Nokia Siemens (who will implement and maintain the network). Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this blessing is the conditions that were given by the FCC for LightSquared’s formation. Namely, that LightSquared will not sell access to its 1525 to 1660.5 MHz band spectrum to “the largest or second-largest wireless provider” in the US…in other words, to Verizon and AT&T. Needless to say, the two mobile giants are rather put-off by the exclusion.

LightSquared has the potential to expand wireless access greatly, by allowing more providers and carriers to purchase distributable access to the network. By the same token, devices that might not otherwise have had wireless ability may now be enabled by this “all-comers” network. The big questions will come with the implementation of multiple LTE networks, and who will have the best deals on wholesale access to those networks. Will we see medium to large companies adapting to LightSquare networks? Might it be what your company will use in the future?

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