LightSquared to provide satellite phones for tribes

The startup will also provide free service on the phones for Native Americans in rural areas

LightSquared said Monday it will donate as many as 2,000 satellite phones, with service, to a health agency serving American Indians in rural areas.

The phones will use the existing satellite service provided by LightSquared, which acquired satellite carrier SkyTerra last year and is now proposing to add a controversial LTE (Long Term Evolution) 4G cellular component to its offerings. The first wave of the devices for American Indian health has now been delivered, LightSquared said.

LightSquared is giving the phones to the Indian Health Service (IHS), a federal agency that in turn works with tribes and tribal organizations in various parts of the U.S. Public health nurses and community health representatives will use them to communicate with doctors as they visit Indians in remote areas that aren't connected to current communications networks.

The donation is part of a broader initiative, announced last September, to connect remote tribal lands with wireless voice links. LightSquared said it has provided equipment and services for school buses and Bureau of Indian Affairs law enforcement vehicles on tribal lands in Arizona and New Mexico.

LightSquared's satellite business was called SkyTerra until it was acquired last year by Harbinger Capital Partners, the parent company of LightSquared. At that time, SkyTerra had about 18,000 subscribers. Late last year, it launched one of the world's largest communications satellites to provide a service throughout North America with up to 400K bps (bits per second) of downstream data speed. The phones used in the Indian program offer only voice communication.

LightSquared plans to operate as a wholesale carrier, letting other service providers resell either the satellite or the LTE service or both. Its plan has raised concerns over interference with GPS services. Working with LightSquared, a technical working group earlier this year found significant interference if the LTE network used one part of LightSquared's radio spectrum, but the carrier now proposes starting with another block of frequencies.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission's 30-day public comment period on the test results ended on Saturday, kicking off a 15-day period for responses.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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