AT&T buys NextWave spectrum hoping to create a new 4G band

By buying NextWave, AT&T removes the biggest obstacle to its plan to convert the Wireless Communications Services band from a worthless patch of airwaves to highly valuable 4G spectrum. The deal will cost AT&T $600 million but would pay dividends in new LTE capacity.

AT&T wants to teach an old spectrum band new 4G tricks

A wireless band that the mobile industry has practically written off may get a new life as 4G spectrum if a new proposal from AT&T(s t) and Sirius XM(s siri) gets regulatory approval. The two strange bedfellows have submitted a joint filing to the FCC requesting permission to use AT&T’s long dormant 2.3 GHz Wireless Communications Service (WCS) for an LTE network.
Deploying any kind of service on WCS has been cluster-you-know-what for any operator that has made the attempt. ExtremeTech provides an excellent description of the problems of making WCS workable for mobile broadband:

WCS licenses were auctioned off by the FCC in 1997. The FCC hoped that it would be used rather quickly, but the restrictions that WCS imposed on licensees caused issues. For one, the power and emissions restrictions made it nearly impossible to deploy any sort of terrestrial network technology.
The other issue was that satellite radio (officially known as the Satellite Digital Audio Radio Service, or SDARS) lived in between two halves of the WCS frequency range. That meant that terrestrial network technologies would easily block out satellite radio signals from receivers. This alone has severely paralyzed efforts to make the WCS frequencies usable.

AT&T and BellSouth, which was eventually acquired by Ma Bell, experimented with the band for years, launching trial pre-standard WiMAX networks in several markets (Oddly, one of those markets was Pahrump, Nev., the brothel capital of the U.S.). But neither company could make the technology work, and both were constantly running up against the protests of Sirius and XM, which themselves merged in 2008.
But apparently these old antagonists have come to an accord. From the FCC filing:

In order to resolve these issues, AT&T and Sirius XM met to discuss whether their differences could be bridged and have reached an accommodation with significant concessions on both sides. The accommodation, if accepted in its entirety, will enable the adoption of technical rules satisfactory to both interests and allow licenses in the 2.3 GHz band to exploit the most efficient new mobile broadband standards, including LTE, while limiting the potential interference to satellite radio reception to respectable levels.

The major concession appears to be on AT&T’s part. The carrier has agreed to carve out a 5 MHz guard band on either side of Sirius’s satellite spectrum, creating in essence a no-man’s zone where no transmissions can travel. That’s quite a big deal actually: As little as 10 MHz can support a full-fledged HSPA network and is equivalent to half the LTE capacity AT&T has deployed in most markets.
But AT&T figures it is better than not being able to use the spectrum at all — and risk losing it. In fact, AT&T has been trying to sell off the same WCS airwaves it now proposes to make guard bands.
If the FCC grants AT&T’s request it will be left with between 10 and 20 MHz of remaining spectrum over which to launch LTE. It may seem like a win for all parties involved, but this won’t be an automatic approval for the FCC. AT&T is the largest spectrum holder in WCS, but there are other licensees that could potentially get screwed by this proposal. As satellite broadband analyst Tim Farrar points out on his blog, NextWave owns a lot of WCS, and nearly half of its holdings are in the same blocks that AT&T wants to make off-limits.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock user Nicolas Raymond

LightSquared to FCC: You owe us spectrum

If the FCC won’t let LightSquared launch LTE in its satellite spectrum, then the carrier wants the commission to find its network an alternate home on the airwaves. LightSquared still claims its 4G network will leave GPS unharmed, but it’s willing to consider a spectrum swap.

In a suspect move, LightSquared calls for GPS design standards

LightSquared has asked the FCC n to impose future standards on GPS device design, claiming such requirements would allow GPS and its LTE network to co-exist peacefully. While LightSquared would appear to be taking the middle path, the proposal smacks of a political stunt.

Can Carl Icahn pick up the pieces of LightSquared?

Carl Icahn has been quietly buying up LightSquared’s debt a rock bottom prices, which would put the activist investor in position to take over the company in the increasingly likely event of bankruptcy. But would there be anything left of LightSquared to salvage?

Making a T-Mobile iPhone is harder than it sounds

Adding T-Mobile support to the iPhone may sound simple, but it’s a much more difficult task than it appears. New bands don’t just necessitate new antennas, but a complete phone redesign. T-Mobile’s Apple moment may come with the iPhone 5, but don’t hold your breath.

Federal agency recommends killing LightSquared LTE plans

PNT ExComm, the federal agency overseeing the national GPS satellite network, has concluded that any LTE network LightSquared would build, no matter how much it scales back its transmission power, would interfere with GPS devices nationwide. LightSquared’s hopes of building its network are quickly dwindling.

Sprint gives LightSquared a reprieve, but is it enough?

Sprint has given its partner LightSquared 30 days to get regulators to green-light the launch of its controversial 4G service, but it may not be enough. If Sprint pulls out of the network-sharing deal, LightSquared’s costs multiply, almost certainly killing its rollout plans.

Without FCC approval, bankruptcy looms for LightSquared

LightSquared isn’t just fighting the government and the GPS industry for the right to build its nationwide LTE network; it’s also fighting the clock. In a financial statement released to Reuters, LightSquared revealed it may run out of cash early next year.

LightSquared makes more concessions to save LTE plans

LightSquared is giving up more of its network ambitions in hopes of winning FCC approval to launch LTE, but if it concedes too much it may find itself with no network left to build. That would be just fine with LightSquared’s critics in the GPS industry.