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LightSquared CEO wants industry's 'dumbest' wireless pipe

You didn’t ask Edison to build toasters

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Open Mobile Summit The CEO of LightSquared has said telecommunications firms are making a mistake in trying to build intelligence into their networks, and should instead go dumb.

According to Sanjiv Ahuja, who is heading the company’s push to set up a new LTE mobile network in the US, there is no point in trying to build intelligence into the connectivity market. Instead, network operators should just be dumb pipes, like utility companies.

“We want to be the dumbest wireless broadband pipe,” he told delegates at the Open Mobile Summit in San Francisco. “I want no intelligence in our network, we are an absolute utility. When Edison invented the electricity he didn’t make the toasters it powered.”

Intelligence comes from people and applications, he postulated, not from network operators. You can’t monetize creativity, and nor should operators try – although this was running counter to the existing business model for mobile development carried out by the incumbents. They would face a very disruptive next few years, he warned, and not just because of LightSquared’s business model.

There was a looming bandwidth crunch coming, he predicted, due to the plethora of new devices coming out and the increasing level of use among consumers. In the next two or three years the industry will run out of spectrum, he predicted.

His concerns found little traction among the competition, however. David Small, CTO of Verizon, said that his company had a clear plan in place to deal with the spectrum issue and would be fine until at least 2015. Sprint’s CTO Stephen Bye was similarly sanguine.

“We’re comfortable with our spectrum position,” Bye said. “We have enough opportunity to innovate with the spectrum we have.”

Ahuja also commented on the ongoing fight LightSquared faces over interference with its service and GPS devices. His company, and the company it took over, has had the spectrum licenses since the 1990s, he explained, but in that time a whole range of other devices have been built using spectrum similar to that used by LightSquared and this was causing problems. LightSquared is facing renewed regulatory pressure to eliminate this interference, something he said the company was close to achieving, although we've heard that one before.

But he took exception to the way the entire issue had been politicized. LightSquared has come under attack from some in the media for having close links to the Democratic Party and faces, as yet unproven, allegations of interference in political decision making.

“For decades of the history of this industry, we have dealt with interference through engineering, never from politics,” he said. “This is a problem for US engineers, not politicians, to solve and we will get it done.”

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