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Nokia jumps into bed with LightSquared

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Nokia will provide a data-centric device for LightSquared's network next year, competing with devices based on Qualcomm's L-Band TDD LTE chips - a Scrabble bag of letters that could do well in Blighty.

LightSquared plans to build a national network covering 92 per cent of Americans by 2015 and using ground-component frequencies with satellite connectivity for in-fill. Devices will need to operate on an unusual mix of frequencies, and have a satellite capability to avoid breaking the FCC rules on the use of spectrum reserved for satellite communications. That means no existing device will fit the bill, but the devices that are launched could also be used in the UK - in the L Band space that Qualcomm owns. Qualcomm had been struggling to find a use for the band space since it paid more than eight million quid for it.

When it bought the spectrum more than two years ago, it looked as if Qualcomm would be offering mobile TV based on its MediaFlo technology. But MediaFlo is dying in the US, and no matter how many times it has been offered, it seems the public just isn't interested in watching broadcast TV on a phone. This leaves Qualcomm with a significant chunk of spectrum and no application to fill it.

The only good news is that WorldSpace, the satellite-radio company which owns the same spectrum across Europe and with whom Qualcomm would have to avoid interfering, have gone titsup, changed ownership, and frankly have other things to worry about. Which could leave the L Band usefully empty if only handsets existed to make use of it.

This is exactly what Nokia has promised to deliver, and Qualcomm had promised to provide chips for. It's safe to assume that Qualcomm won't be providing chips to Nokia, but the company will be supplying processors that support quad-band GSM, WCDMA, HSPA+ and LTE in a range of frequencies including the L Band space that LightSquared will be using in the US, and Qualcomm owns in Blighty. AnyData will be the first customer for those chips - building USB dongles initially - but both LightSquared and Qualcomm will be hoping that others quickly join the fray.

LightSquared is having a hard time signing up manufacturers as it won't promise to buy any devices. Its business model relies on third parties hiring network capacity in bulk and selling it on to their general public, ideally subsiding the kit too. Nokia Siemens is already working on building the network, despite the fact that LightSquared has less than a quarter of the $7bn it will cost, but Nokia had no obligation to get involved - which could be taken as an important endorsement or a confirmation that Nokia really will try anything to break into the US market.

Either way, LightSquared is pioneering a new kind of frequency-agile, multi-protocol network of which we're going to see a lot more, and even if that project falls on its face the technology will turn up all over the place, perhaps even on this side of the pond. ®

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