Pai Signals Approval of Ligado L-Band Use for 5G

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Thursday, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai circulated a draft to his colleagues regarding the approval of satellite provider Ligado’s application to deploy a nationwide broadband network in the L-Band. The network would primarily support 5G and Internet of Things services. The order comes with conditions to ensure existing L-band users are protected from harmful interference.

The decision comes over the objections of 13 government agencies, led by the Department of Defense, who warn it might interfere with military GPS operations. They said so in a memo co-signed by representatives of the Army, Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard. It was also signed by the Departments of Commerce, Energy, Homeland Security, Interior, Justice and Transportation as well as the Federal Aviation Administration, NASA and National Science Foundation, according to Inside Global Navigation Satellite Systems.  

At the center of the debate is a proposal to take frequencies allocated primarily for use by satellites and allow them to be used for broadband communications. Extensive testing has shown that the proposal, even in a lower power form, would cause interference to GPS receivers. Those receivers are used for navigation and positioning but also for accurate timing that enables the synchronization of mobile communications and internet traffic.  

The Defense Department is “strongly opposed” to the proposed service which “would adversely affect the military potential of GPS,” according to filings. Frequencies near Ligado’s handle faint GPS signals from satellites, and critics fear that traffic would be overwhelmed by Ligado’s strong 5G signals linking towers and handsets, reports Bloomberg.

The matter is urgent for Ligado, which faces due dates in December on $4.6 billion in debt, notes Bloomberg.

The issue has been pending at the FCC for nearly 10 years. Earlier objections over possible interference forced the company, then called LightSquared Inc., into bankruptcy in 2012. It later offered a revised plan it said would lessen prospects of GPS interference. The company reduced power levels and said it wouldn’t use some of its spectrum.

Pai said it’s time for the agency to make a decision about Ligado. “We have compiled an extensive record, which confirms that it is in the public interest to grant Ligado’s application while imposing stringent conditions to prevent harmful interference.” He said the draft order would make more efficient use of “underused” spectrum and promote the deployment of 5G.

“Although I appreciate the concerns that have been raised by certain Executive Branch agencies, it is the Commission’s duty to make an independent determination based on sound engineering,” Pai explained. “And based on the painstaking technical analysis done by our expert staff, I am convinced that the conditions outlined in this draft order would permit Ligado to move forward without causing harmful interference.” For more industry reaction, click here

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