LightSquared is an operator that’s having a tough time getting off the ground. Their problem? The spectrum they purchased with the intent of creating an LTE network sits way too close to the spectrum that GPS uses. Early tests of LightSquared’s network showed that GPS receivers within a 20 mile radius of a LightSquared cell tower simply stopped working. The battle between LightSquared, the GPS industry, and the FCC has been going on since the summer of 2010, with each side taking potshots at each other every few weeks. Now what makes LightSquared special, and explains why they’re getting so much attention, is that they don’t want to be like AT&T or Verizon, instead they want to be a dumb pipe that businesses then resell to end users.
Earlier this week LightSquared announced that they signed a total of 33 wholesale agreements. That’s 33 different companies competing for your dollar using the exact same network; each promises to deliver some sort of differentiation. Rewind your clock back to 1998 and that’s exactly how the internet used to work. Everyone had a phone line already connected to their home, but since you had to dial an ISP to make a connection you could pick from a huge range of operators for your service. The network (read: your phone line) was essentially a dumb pipe.
Yesterday LightSquared sent a letter to the FCC basically saying: “We paid good money for our spectrum and we demand you let us use it. Oh and don’t forget to tell the GPS industry that it’s their fault for making devices that can potentially be rendered useless by our network.” It makes for a hell of a read, but it doesn’t change the situation. The American government simply thinks that GPS is more important than wireless broadband, and we wholeheartedly agree with that. Streaming HD movies to an iPad may be cool, but safely traveling from New York to California is absolutely freaking awesome.