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Dish may be revving up plans to fill LightSquared gap

Suggests "revised plan" to FCC, and despite lack of detail, many believe that means an accelerated schedule


Published: 25 January, 2012

READ MORE: Spectrum | US | Regulator | Satellite | LTE

Satellite player Dish Network claims it is planning to leap straight to the forthcoming LTE-Advanced standard when it starts to build a network in its mobile satellite spectrum. So some observers got very excited when Dish, in the same week that the ITU confirmed LTE-Advanced as an official IMT-Advanced or 'true 4G' platform, said it would pitch a "revised plan" for its roll-out to the FCC.

However, leaping to the conclusion that "revised" means "accelerated" is premature, especially as details of the new proposals have not been released. The standard was a certainty to get official recognition anyway, and Dish will still have to wait for certified, affordable equipment and devices, something that could take another two years - even though no fewer than four US carriers say they will have some LTE-Advanced installed next year.

More urgently, Dish needs to get FCC approval for its plans, and with rival LTE/satellite player LightSquared looking to be in mortal trouble over its clashes with GPS, the older firm may be trying to enhance its own case by promising rapid deployment to fill the mobile broadband breach. Dish's revisions were also submitted shortly after a government agency issued the opinion that LightSquared would never be able to address its interference issues with GPS (an opinion based on tests which LightSquared denounced as rigged).

It needs the FCC to grant a waiver, similar to the provisional one obtained by LightSquared, to run terrestrial-only services in a band designated for mobile satellite or hybrid applications. Dish's proposal is seen as less problematic, as the frequencies it acquired last year from bankrupt satellite operators TerreStar and DBSD North America are further away from GPS. But the FCC will certainly be ultra-careful not to approve any plan which could open any other cans of worms, despite the regulator's eagerness to harness the underused mobile satellite bands for wireless broadband. And Dish will need a partner, or additional spectrum, to create a national wholesale broadband system, hence the recent speculation that it might merge with T-Mobile USA or even AT&T.

During a meeting last week, Dish's EVP Thomas Cullen and four attorneys presented a "detailed proposal" with a "revised build-out schedule keyed to commercial availability of the LTE-Advanced standard" to the FCC. Further details were not made public, though as WirelessWeek points out, formal changes to the original plan would have to be put on record, so these are more likely to be part of negotiations over timescales, coverage commitments and other details needed to gain an FCC ruling.

Dish had previously said it was "committed to developing a build-out schedule consistent with FCC precedent and based on the build-out principles established in the Sprint/Nextel and Sprint/Clearwire transaction decisions." Both these allowed for a merger or joint venture between two spectrum owners, subject to certain roll-out and coverage requirements. Clearwire was told to cover 15m POPs within four years and 30m within six, while LightSquared, should its proposal be accepted after all, would need to cover 100m by the end of this year.

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