FCC Backs Ligado Plan to Develop L-Band Spectrum for 5G

In opposition to the Pentagon, Federal Communications Commission chair Ajit Pai backed Ligado Networks’ plan to develop the L-band spectrum of airwaves for cellular service. In his draft order, Pai stipulated “certain conditions” that would protect against interference with Global Positioning System technology. Opponents say the company’s usage would interfere with military operations and weather forecasting bandwidth. Ligado, originally known as LightSquared, went bankrupt in 2012 when its business plans were rejected.

The Wall Street Journal reports that, “if approved by the FCC, Pai’s order would favor hedge funds and other investors who hold the more than $7 billion in debt Ligado has accumulated while waiting for regulators’ blessing.”

According to Ligado chief executive Doug Smith, his company’s “proposed service would serve utilities, railroads and other industrial users with private communication networks.” “The superior propagation characteristics of our spectrum will improve mobile 5G coverage — both outdoor and indoor — and in doing so, accelerate the deployment of 5G networks,” said Smith.

The Pentagon and the Commerce Department have campaigned against Pai’s plans, the former by arguing that “the risk to GPS systems used by the U.S. military were too great to let the company proceed.” The Commerce Department, satellite business groups and airline companies (including JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines) want to “preserve spectrum for incumbent use” and have also expressed concern that “commercial activity threatens to scramble weather readings and precision timing technology.”

Attorney General William Barr, previously general counsel for Verizon Communications, supports Ligado’s plan, warning the federal government that, “U.S. networks risked falling behind China’s 5G infrastructure unless authorities moved quickly to spur new investments in Western telecom projects.”

He urged the FCC to “let 5G network operators pair Ligado’s spectrum licenses with C-band frequencies, another set of airwaves cellphone operators are seeking to use.” Currently, the FCC plans to bring those frequencies to auction in December. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, agreeing with Barr, said L-band, combined with a portion of C-band spectrum for 5G “is vital to our national security.”