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Lightsquared cremation postponed

Corpse can keep walking about for another year

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Troubled cellular disrupter LightSquared has apparently managed to extend its debt burden again, potentially keeping the company afloat until September next year.

The deal with its debtors releases $190m of locked-up collateral, but still sees LightSquared paying off $6.25m a month on its $1.1bn debt as part of its bankruptcy agreement. The details come from Bloomberg, and follow the wannabe operator's Chapter 11 filing in May.

Since that filing, one group of creditors has been arguing over repayments, locking up the cash reserves, but later conceded the collateral would have to be freed up. This came after LightSquared filed papers stating that without access to the money it would be forced to immediately fold and liquidate its assets.

Those assets include a deal with British satellite company Inmarsat for radio spectrum, which LightSquared had intended to use to deploy a national phone network covering America. But LS never got to use the spectrum after the FCC reversed its previous ruling on the legality of filling the band with mobile telephony – based on the perception that it too could interfere with GPS systems - but the deal could be revived should the FCC's position change (again).

Slightly more tangible is the radio spectrum LightSquared itself owns, but that's located right beside the GPS bands (as opposed to the spectrum it bought from Inmarsat, which is 10MHz of bandwidth further down the dial). Given the FCC's decision that protecting GPS kit outweighs everything else then no one is ever likely to be able to deploy anything very useful in those bands.

LightSquared will spend a chunk of its money arguing that the FCC illegally devalued that spectrum, and that it spent huge amounts of money on the basis of FCC advice that it would be OK to run phones in the band, but that's an argument for another day.

LightSquared's other asset, and it's biggest one both physically and financially, is the massive satellite it has flying. SkyTerra 1 has a 22-metre reflector, and will deliver 400Kb/sec to anyone in America, but to make back the cost of the bird LightSquared would have to charge more than anyone in America would pay.

The box-o'-frogs business plan was to use the bird to provide infill to the burgeoning mobile network, and LightSquared even signed up customers and recruited Nokia to develop compatible handsets. For a while it even looked possible but now it's further off than it has ever been.

The only hope of resurrection now lies in a spectrum swap with the US military, and LightSquared points out that there is precedent – even if it was on a much smaller scale – and that a swap could be accomplished without concerted lobbying on the part of every existing mobile operator in the US, as any LightSquared deal on its supposedly "GPS interfering" spectrum would certainly attract. ®

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