The long saga of satellite operator LightSquared's quest to become a cellular carrier may come to an end soon with an auction for the company's assets scheduled for late November.
The assets, most importantly its spectrum licenses, will be auctioned off Nov. 25, according to an order issued Monday by a New York bankruptcy court. The lead bidder in the auction is L-Band Acquisition Corp. (LBAC), a company linked to satellite TV operator Dish Network that has offered US$2.2 billion for the company.
LightSquared received conditional approval from the Federal Communications Commission in early 2011 to shift some of its satellite spectrum to terrestrial mobile broadband. The company planned to use those frequencies for a wholesale-only LTE service that could be offered alongside far-reaching satellite-based coverage. But after tests showed there would be interference between the LTE network and GPS (Global Positioning System), regulators shot down LightSquared's plan.
The company declared bankruptcy in May 2012. Philip Falcone, a hedge-fund chief who built LightSquared out of two earlier satellite companies, said the process would give it more time to work out a deal with regulators and make the network possible again. But no such deal has materialized.
It's unlikely the auction will draw any bidders that will stop Dish from taking over LightSquared, because the company's spectrum is particularly well matched to Dish's needs, said TMF Associates analyst Tim Farrar. Though some of LightSquared's spectrum may never be usable for cellular and getting approvals to use other frequencies may take a decade or more, there is one chunk of spectrum that Dish might be able to use fairly soon, Farrar said.
If it can combine that spectrum with its own, Dish may be set to build a terrestrial service, he said. But that service probably wouldn't look like a typical mobile broadband network, according to Farrar. Instead, he sees Dish offering fixed wireless broadband to its satellite subscribers and possibly using the dishes on their roofs as miniature cell towers for other carriers as an additional revenue source.
Dish would also take over LightSquared's existing satellite business, which hasn't been profitable but would probably keep running, Farrar said.