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FCC axes LightSquared LTE dreams

Anyone expecting LightSquared to bring LTE services to their neighborhood got a rude awakening today when the Federal Communications Commission said it would not permit the company to run an LTE network on satellite spectrum.

MORE ON LTE SPECTRUM: LTE spectrum: How much do the big carriers have?

BACKGROUND: With LightSquared deal, Sprint finally gives in to LTE

The FCC made its decision in the wake of a report by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) that showed that the proposed LightSquared LTE network could not operate over satellite spectrum without critically interfering with GPS services that rely on the same spectrum. The commission is now proposing to rescind the conditional waiver that it had granted LightSquared to start work building an LTE network on the spectrum.

"This proceeding has revealed challenges in maximizing the opportunities of mobile broadband for our economy," the FCC wrote in a prepared statement. "In particular it has revealed challenges to removing regulatory barriers on spectrum that restrict use of that spectrum for mobile broadband."

The commission's decision to rescind its waiver comes just over one year after it first granted LightSquared conditional permission to start building out its LTE network on the 1.6GHz spectrum band. The proposed network was controversial as GPS vendors said there was no way to prevent major interference with GPS services that run on the 1.5GHz to 1.6GHz L-band radio spectrum. This past November, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R.-Iowa) held up two nominations to fill two vacant seats at the FCC until the commission addressed his concerns about the LightSquared network's interference with GPS services.

The FCC decision also throws a wrench in the plans of Sprint, which last year signed an agreement with LightSquared to deploy and operate a nationwide LTE network that would have used a 40MHz chunk of spectrum on the 1.6GHz band. LightSquared was to pay Sprint $9 billion for hosting the spectrum and running the network over an 11-year period, while also giving its customers access to Sprint's 3G EV-DO Rev. A network through a roaming agreement.

The FCC has set a goal to make 300MHz of spectrum available for wireless broadband use over the next five years with the eventual goal of freeing up 500MHz of spectrum by the end of 2020. The FCC has said it could reach 300MHz by reallocating 120MHz of spectrum currently used by television broadcasters, with 90MHz coming from mobile satellite providers, 10MHz coming from the 700MHz "D" block, 60MHz coming from the AWS band and 20MHz coming from the Wireless Communications Service band.

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