Ligado CEO opens up on the company’s industrial IoT business model and target markets

SAN FRANCISCO—After emerging from bankruptcy, rebranding into Ligado and narrowing its business plan to focus on the industrial IoT and 5G, “now it’s go time,” according to the company’s CEO Doug Smith.

In an extensive interview with FierceWireless here on the sidelines of the Mobile World Congress Americas trade show, Smith offered the clearest view yet into Ligado’s operations and expectations. And the bottom line, Smith explained, is that the company is currently in discussions with a wide range of potential partners and customers and is getting ready to generate some momentum.

“It’s time for us to put this plan into motion. And so that means we’re looking for partners. So, we are having lots of discussions with a broad array of companies. We’re focused on providing a unique service and serving the industrial IoT, and with that comes a broad array of interested parties,” Smith said. “And so we’re out having all those discussions, and there’s a lot of interest in what we’re talking about. There’s a lot of interest in the services we can provide.”

Smith also outlined the specific industries that Ligado is targeting: “We’re focused on the industrial IoT, so that leads us to energy, transportation, manufacturing, those types of things.”

Ligado early last year arose from the ashes of LightSquared, which filed for bankruptcy in 2012. Ligado today sports investments from Fortress Investment Group, Centerbridge Partners and JPMorgan Chase & Co., with a 40% minority stake owned by Philip Falcone’s Harbinger Capital Partners, which sunk roughly $3 billion into LightSquared’s ill-fated business plan. Ligado’s board today includes luminaries like Ivan Seidenberg of Verizon, Timothy Donahue of Nextel and Reed Hundt of the FCC. It also operates a new, sizable satellite that launched in 2011; it has an agreement with GPS companies Garmin, Deere and Trimble Navigation; and Smith said Ligado expects the FCC to soon allow it to build a terrestrial wireless network on around 35 MHz of midband spectrum.

Now that most of these pieces are in place, what will Smith do?

“We also will be building customized, private networks on licensed spectrum. And that’s where it’s different. So, there’s customized, private networks today, but it’s enterprises that need that control over their own network, and out of necessity they’ve gone out and built it themselves using unlicensed spectrum. They don’t do it because they want to become network designers and operators, they do it because they want to have control over their infrastructure. They want to customize it for their own needs,” Smith said. “That’s where we come in. We have the expertise, we can offer turnkey services to build custom private networks and what’s really different is that you can do it on licensed spectrum,” the midband spectrum Ligado expects the FCC to soon release.

“Then we also bring in a platform. And the platform I would describe as everything we put around it. So, the services we put around it, including this satellite service,” Smith added. “The satellite itself is unique and it’s different and it enables lots of applications.”

Smith also laid out several target markets that Ligado is chasing. He said the company sees substantial opportunities in drones, such as for inspecting power lines or railroad lines, since the company’s satellite operations can offer centimeter-level accuracy alongside low-latency communications. The same goes for the automotive segment, which could also make use of the ubiquitous, location-precise services promised by Ligado’s terrestrial/satellite hybrid network. And utilities too could represent an opportunity for Ligado, Smith said.

“We’ve thought a lot about this,” he explained. “It’s go time.”