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LightSquared Sunk by FCC; Shared Spectrum Interference to GPS Devices Cited

Phillip Dampier February 15, 2012 Competition, LightSquared, Public Policy & Gov't, Video, Wireless Broadband No Comments

A billionaire who invested enormous sums to purchase airwaves for a new national wireless broadband network learned Tuesday ruled he cannot use them to launch LightSquared.

The Federal Communications Commission said yesterday Philip Falcone’s vision for competitive wireless service cannot go forward on the frequencies he acquired because tests show they create significant interference to other nearby spectrum users, especially GPS.

Falcone’s hedge fund poured nearly $3 billion into LightSquared, which the company still claims would not create significant problems for GPS users including aircraft, cars, and ships.

Falcone

But when tests were conducted in early 2011, significant interference problems were reported, some that could jeopardize the safety of American air travel.  The FCC decided it preferred to be safe instead of sorry.

The announcement by the FCC calls into question the future of the company and the value of its airwave assets, which are now likely worth a fraction of the price paid.

The company’s agreements with at least 30 wholesale customers are also at risk, and one of its largest partners, Sprint-Nextel, has spent the last few months distancing itself from the project, anticipating the decision the FCC announced yesterday.

The rejection has upset the FCC’s plans to increase wireless competition for AT&T and Verizon, which dominate American wireless.  The agency hoped the spectrum LightSquared obtained would open the doors to a new national player, but that appears unlikely for now.

LightSquared executives said in October they would sue the FCC in court if the agency blocked their network from operating.

The only new player on the horizon may be Dish Network, which earlier acquired wireless spectrum from two bankrupt companies, and now seeks to use them as mobile phone spectrum.  Separately, Clearwire is working with Sprint to construct a new national 4G network, while still operating Clear’s existing WiMAX 4G service.

CNBC discusses LightSquared’s new troubles and where the company can go from here.  (3 minutes)

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