Ligado proposes license modification to protect GPS aviation devices

Ligado Networks took steps today to bring it closer to putting 40 MHz of midband spectrum to good use while still protecting GPS.

The company filed an amendment to its pending license modification with the FCC that protects certified aviation GPS by reducing the power level at which certain of its downlink connections will operate.

In fact, it’s a pretty big power reduction, down to 9.8 dBW, or 10 watts, which represents a power reduction of more than 99.9% from the level authorized in 2010 and a reduction of more than 99.3% from the 32 dBW that GPS device makers had agreed to.

What led up to today’s filing was a long process that included consultations with the FAA and Department of Transportation, where they set out to determine the safest power level for certified aviation GPS devices. In doing so, they looked at the worst-case scenario in order to get to the best outcome for GPS, according to Valerie Green, Ligado’s executive vice president and chief legal officer. That meant providing the maximum protection for helicopters’ GPS to operate safely; they’re allowed to get closer to things like wireless towers than fixed wing aircraft.

Ligado has 40 MHz of licensed spectrum in the nationwide block of 1500 MHz to 1700 MHz spectrum; the modification it’s proposing today has to do with limiting power in the 1526-1536 MHz band.

The reduced power level does have implications for the services that Ligado can offer, but it’s not as big as one might think.

“It’s certainly an impact,” Green told FierceWirelessTech. But as networks continue to evolve and new technologies are developed—and because this pertains to downlink power—“this spectrum really can still be put to very good use” in both current and next-generation networks, she said.  

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Ligado plans to invest up to $800 million in its satellite and terrestrial network capabilities, which could create at least 8,000 jobs, according to its FCC filing. The company plans to focus on targeted deployments that deliver highly secure and ultrareliable communications over custom private networks, serving industrial IoT and emerging 5G markets, in critical infrastructure areas such as rail, trucking, utilities, public safety and oil and gas.

Although that sounds similar to some of the use cases discussed for the 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Services (CBRS) band, Green said she does not expect the company to compete with the CBRS crowd. Various spectrum bands will be required for 5G, she said, including 2.5 GHz, 3.5 GHz and millimeter wave bands that are in motion today. “A really, truly 5G next generation network is going to require bits and pieces of all those different types of spectrum,” she said.

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Ligado also has satellite capabilities to bring to the table, which makes it unique in terms of the types of services it can offer and its ability to reach rural areas. It has pervasive coverage all over North America and its satellite is the most powerful L-band commercial satellite deployed, with the capability to support devices as small as cellphones.  

The company isn’t at a stage where it can talk about vendors or build-out plans, but it expects once it gets the requisite regulatory approvals from the FCC and others, it will attract more interest from private equity investors. Green said it’s hard to predict timing on offering a commercial service because the approvals are in the government’s hands. Still, she’s optimistic things will get done in a timely fashion.

“We do think this recent filing will hopefully give everybody everything that they need to look at it soon,” she said.

The company certainly has had a long history, going back to its LightSquared days and even before that, as a mobile satellite services (MSS) operator. LightSquared didn’t pan out; it filed for bankruptcy in 2012. After that, a new team bought the company and changed its name to Ligado.

It now has coexistence agreements with GPS manufacturers—the same ones it spent years fighting with—like Garmin, Trimble, John Deere and others. Board members now include Ivan Seidenberg from Verizon, Timothy Donahue, formerly of Nextel, and former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt.