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Dish eyes 4G LTE wireless network

Anything LightSquared can do...

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Dish Networks is following LightSquared's lead in applying to the FCC to be relieved of its obligation to use satellite frequencies for satellite communications.

The plan is to provide Americans with data access using TD-LTE, over the frequencies which are supposed to be reserved for satellite communications, and Dish would like the FCC's permission to ship kit that has no capability to talk to the satellites at all, just as LightSquared intends to do.

The radio spectrum owned by Dish, and LightSquared, is reserved for satellites, but as satellite transmissions have a hard time penetrating buildings and terrain operators are allowed to build an Ancillary Terrestrial Component* – infill transmitters operating at the same frequency as the birds and providing signal to those without line of sight.

LightSquared turned that model on its head, suggesting that the ground-based network would be primary, with the satellite providing in-fill: estimated at around 2 per cent of traffic. LightSquared then successfully lobbied the FCC to permit it (and its wholesale customers) to ship equipment that isn't even capable of satellite communications, turning the company into a 4G network wholesaler without having to shell out for 4G spectrum.

LightSquared's plan was clearly insane, but remarkably the company has put almost all the pieces into place and now the only thing standing between LightSquared and a national network is the GPS crowd.

GPS uses very low-power frequencies alongside the LightSquared band, and the industry is very upset at being swamped by high-power LTE signals when previously its only neighbours were economically impractical satellite-phone operators.

Dish Networks bought two of those operators, DBSD (formerly ICO) and TerreStar, to get their spectrum. Both companies also have birds in the air, but Dish wants permission for some of its customers to ignore the satellites and use a ground-based network instead. That spectrum is well clear of the GPS band – the neighbours are fixed microwave and local television relays, and a 90MHz block of "Federal Government Use" – but Dish will still need to raise enough money to build such a network.

Assuming Dish sticks to fixed internet access, then they'd need a lot less than the $9bn LightSquared has to find. This is because it will be able to roll out slowly to the more-profitable locations first, though (as DailyWireless points out) it could equally sign a deal with AT&T or similar to share tower sites.

The FCC will have a hard time rejecting the request, given the latitude already given to LightSquared, so the USA could soon have yet another LTE network while here in Blighty we're a couple of years from having our first. ®

* In the UK we call it Complementary Ground Component, and operators have to pay proper rates to use it, so none of them do.

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