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LightSquared courts disaster with rapid response team

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American wannabe network operator LightSquared has created a rapid response team, poised to provide satellite communications, and put the company's technology in front of TV cameras, at a moment's notice.

The Emergency Rapid Response Communications Team (ERRT) is basically a box of satellite-capable phones which can be rushed to the scene of any disaster in the USA to provide connectivity to emergency workers, regardless of the damage to local infrastructure. But its primary purpose is to lend credibility to the network wholesaler, which still needs to raise a lot of cash and get a customer or two before it's going to be taken seriously.

Harbinger Capital, which owns LightSquared, has raised another $850m recently, and is claiming to have signed up a customer or two though it's not saying who those customers are, so we have to assume they're pretty small scale. It does look as though LightSquared is going to have working devices, with Nokia signed to make an "internet access device" and AnyDATA planning on putting Qualcomm's chips into dongles, but that's a minimum requirement for a network that can't use any existing hardware.

The radio spectrum LightSquared uses is satellite ground component - spectrum reserved for satellite use, the meaning of which is being stretched to its limits. Because of that, LightSquared devices will have to be able to connect to geostationary satellites as well as traditional base stations, which makes them ideal for disaster zones where existing infrastructure might be compromised or overloaded.

Not that LightSquared is anywhere near having an operational network yet but, as Dailywireless explains, Harbinger acquired the spectrum for LightSquared by buying up SkyTerra and TerreStar, the latter of which has a bird in the air and existing satellite phones which roam onto AT&T when there's no national disaster. So we're assuming that the ERRT team will (for the moment) be equipped with TerreStar phones, no doubt sporting prominent LightSquared logos.

Not that we should knock LightSquared for emphasising the ubiquity of coverage that satellite communications can provide - the company is already providing free phones to the Indian* Health Service to ensure connectivity in often-ill-served tribal lands. It makes sense to have a team ready to get handsets into the hands of first responders at the scene, and if there happens to be a camera or two in the area that wouldn't do any harm. ®

* Indian* Health Service provides service to Native Americans, rather than people in India who are well beyond the existing bird's footprint or even LightSquared's business plan.

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