FCC Approves Ligado’s 5G Network Over Protests

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UPDATE The FCC Monday unanimously voted to approve an order to allow satellite company Ligado to deploy a low-power nationwide 5G network. Ligado is the wireless satellite venture formerly known as LightSquared that emerged from bankruptcy in 2015. The vote came despite protests from the Defense Department, 12 other federal agencies and major U.S. airlines. The Wireless Infrastructure Association praised the decision.

Ligado will be able to use the L-Band spectrum, which is also used for GPS and other navigation systems because the signals can penetrate cloud cover. The Commission said the approval order includes strict conditions aimed at ensuring global positioning systems would not experience harmful interference.

But last week, the federal agencies and airlines said it would interfere, Inside Towers reported. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said via Twitter on Friday that the “Ligado proposal would needlessly imperil GPS-dependent national security capabilities.”

Lawmakers on the Hill are embroiled in the issue as well. Last Wednesday, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and the panel’s Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-RI), asked President Donald Trump to stop Ligado from moving forward, citing interference with GPS reception, according to Reuters. House Transportation Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) led a letter to Pai Friday, urging him to withdraw the order and reconcile the apparent differing results of spectrum-interference testing between the FCC and other government agencies, Politico reported.

The FCC said Ligado is required to limit the power levels of its base stations, a reduction of 99.3 percent from power levels it proposed in 2015. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called the vote “another step forward for American leadership in 5G.”

U.S. Attorney General William Barr said last week the approval “would greatly reduce the cost and time it will take to deploy 5G throughout the country and would be a major step toward preserving our economic future.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also backed the plan.

A coalition of companies, including Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, Lockheed Martin Corp., Iridium Communications and FedEx Corp., said last week the FCC’s more than nine-year review of Ligado’s various proposals should end without approval.

On Monday, Wireless Infrastructure Association President/CEO Jonathan Adelstein applauded the unanimous and swift approval. “Ligado’s proposed L-band use for propelling 5G developments forward is even more critical now during these unprecedented circumstances as mobile connectivity is increasingly relied upon,” said Adelstein. “We look forward to the tangible benefits it will bring to infrastructure investment, deployment, and connectivity for Americans across the country.”

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