FCC approves Ligado’s use of L-band for IoT, 5G

The Federal Communcations Commission has voted unanimously to allow Ligado Networks to use L-Band spectrum at 1.6 GHz to provide a low-power terrestrial network aimed at supporting private 5G and industrial internet of things services.

The FCC said in a release that granting Ligado’s request “will promote more efficient and effective use of our nation’s spectrum resources and ensure that adjacent band operations, including the Global Positioning System (GPS), are protected from harmful interference.” The conditions of operation include a 23-megahertz guard band made up of Ligado’s own spectrum and limitations on downlink power operations and which portions of the band that Ligado actually uses.

“The vote at the Commission reflects the broad, bipartisan support that this order has received, from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Attorney General William Barr on the one hand to Senator Mark Warner of Virginia and Congresswoman Doris Matsui of California on the other. This vote is another step forward for American leadership in 5G and advanced wireless services,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

Doug Smith, Ligado Networks’ president and CEO, issued a statement thanking the FCC for the approval. Ligado, formerly known as Lightsquared, has been pressing the FCC to allow it to operate a terrestrial network since 2015.

“We greatly appreciate their unanimous support as well as the expert engineering analysis determining that a terrestrial network can be deployed in the L-band to advance our country’s economic and security interests while fully protecting GPS,” Smith said. “Our spectrum can be very instrumental in the transition to 5G, and we look forward to utilizing satellite and terrestrial services to deploy customized private networks and deliver innovative, next-generation IoT solutions for the industrial sector.”

That bipartisan support has its limits, however. As a recent filing from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration says, the U.S. Air Force and other federal executive branch agencies also still believe that granting Ligado’s request will harm Department of Defense operations, including GPS.

Ligado was granted a modification to its existing licenses, which cover 40 megahertz in the 1.6 GHz band, adjacent to some high-precision GPS users. In 2015, Ligado asked the FCC for permission to use a combination of satellite and terrestrial technologies to provide wireless services. It has said that it plans to deliver “first-of-its-kind, seamless satellite and terrestrial connectivity enabled by this spectrum to deliver 5G and Internet of Things services to industrial customers via custom private networks.”

Last June, the company filed a petition asking the FCC to act on its request under under Section 7 of the Communications Act, which says that the FCC must determine within one year whether a new product or service is in the public interest and take action accordingly.

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