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Sprint gives LightSquared extra 6 weeks to get FCC thumbs-up

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Sprint has given LightSquared another six weeks to get FCC approval for its controversial LTE network, otherwise the wannabe operator will have to build its own network rather than piggybacking on Sprint's.

The six weeks are essential as the FCC is seeking additional input from interested parties (PDF, dull, but well referenced), with comments requested before the end of February and a reply to those comments not expected until March 13. Sprint's previous offer on the deal only lasted until the end of January, but now a decision won't happen until the middle of March at best.

Not that losing Sprint's support means scrapping the LightSquared plan, it just means the box-of-frogs operation will have to raise billions more in capital to build the 40,000 base stations it needs to cover the USA. Assuming, of course, that the FCC approval does eventually arrive.

And there's no guarantee of that, despite LightSquared's demand for a Declaratory Ruling. Pontificating over a decision would prevent the FCC being drawn into a debate which has become increasingly political, with impassioned rhetoric coming from both sides.

LightSquared owns radio frequency which used to be reserved for satellite use, but it received permission to run a ground-based network in January last year. That permission was dependent on LightSquared working with the GPS industry to mitigate possible interference, but the two sides have been anything but cordial.

Last month the company wheeled out ex-FCC chief engineer Ed Thomas, who argued that the GPS crowd are overly protective and self-serving. While he was at the FCC, Thomas claimed, the GPS crowd tried to scupper UltraWideBand on the same unfounded grounds, and would have succeeded if parts of the government hadn't already been using UWB without ill effect.

LightSquared's problem is that no one, other than its investors, has anything to gain by saying that its network won't interfere with GPS systems. The band it wants to use for its LTE network is close to the GPS signals, close enough to be picked up by poorly implemented or particularly sensitive GPS kit, and for many parties involved the smartest thing is to just keep mum in the knowledge that if they wait long enough then LightSquared will just disappear.

LightSquared has a satellite in orbit, as required by its licence. Sky Terra 1 has one of the biggest reflectors ever flown (22 meters across), and cost billions to launch, but isn't carrying phone calls while the debate continues.

LightSquared tells it us can raise the money needed to build a national network without Sprint, but with every day that goes by that becomes less likely. ®

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