LightSquared Makes 4G Push, While Sprint, ATandT Keep Eye on Future

LightSquared reportedly has five customers interested in its 4G network, which will compete with Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile and MetroPCS. Meanwhile, Sprint weighs LTE, while AT&T eyes voice over LTE.

LightSquared-the wireless company backed by billionaire Philip Falcone's Harbinger Capital Partners, which last year announced its intentions to launch a "wholesale" nationwide 4G Long-Term Evolution network-now has agreements with five customers, according to a Feb. 16 report from Bloomberg.

While it has declined to name names, the customers are "a national retailer, a device manufacturer, a Website and two carriers," Frank Boulben, LightSquared's chief marketing officer, told Bloomberg.

The company, Boulben added, has amassed $1.75 billion toward its 4G efforts, and is finished raising money "in the short term."

The news comes as officials at Sprint, which is building out the company's WiMax network, keep their LTE (Long-Term Evolution) options open, and AT&T promises VOLTE (voice over LTE) capabilities.

In March 2010, Harbinger purchased SkyTerra, one of a number of companies that have taken advantage of the 2003 Federal Communications Commission Ancillary Terrestrial Component Order. Created to help public safety and law enforcement officials, it allows for simultaneous satellite and cellular services over spectrum capable of supporting 4G services.

Last month, according to Bloomberg, LightSquared received a waiver from the FCC, lifting the order's satellite requirement. The report added that Motorola Solutions, the U.S. Department of Commerce and small aircraft manufacturers have expressed concern that the LightSquared service may interfere with GPS and emergency communications.

In response, Boulben told Bloomberg, "Most of our customers will use GPS, so it's very important we get this right. Having the FCC waiver is critical."

LightSquared will be competing with all four of the major U.S. carriers, which now offer 4G services in various flavors. Verizon offers LTE-based 4G, and T-Mobile and AT&T offer HSPA+ (Evolved High-Speed Packet Access) technology. However, later this year AT&T will begin rolling out LTE.

Sprint, through Clearwire, offers WiMax; though, noting that LTE is expected to become the prevalent form of 4G, company executives have said that the capability exists to roll out LTE alongside Sprint's WiMax network and they're considering it.

At the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, Bob Azzi, Sprint senior vice president of networks, said the carrier is studying the rate at which customers migrate from EVDO (Evolution-Data Optimized) to mobile WiMax, in efforts to decide the best use of its spectrum, Fierce Wireless reported Feb. 15.

Azzi said the carrier would decide whether or not to deploy LTE in the next four to six months; he echoed comments from Sprint CEO Dan Hesse, who during the carrier's Feb. 10 earnings call said the decision would be announced very likely before the middle of the year.

Also at Mobile World Congress, AT&T CTO John Donovan told Forbes that the carrier plans to offer customers VOLTE capabilities in 2013-following Verizon Wireless, which plans to offer VOLTE in 2012 and MetroPCS, which may offer it later this year.

The fifth-largest U.S. carrier and a bit of an underdog, MetroPCS recently also beat Verizon to the title of offering the nation's first 4G LTE Android phone, launching its Samsung Indulge before Verizon could debut the HTC Thunderbolt.

In other LTE news, Verizon announced Feb. 15 that it was expanding its LTE network to cover 80 percent of the population of Detroit-its first expansion since its 4G service went live Dec. 5, 2010, in 38 cities and 60 airports.

Welcoming Detroit "to the future," John Granby, president of Verizon's Michigan/Indiana/Kentucky regions, said that the technology is changing the way people work and play, and that this is only the beginning. "It's not about what 4G can do for you," he added. "Rather, it's about what do you want or need it to do?"

In 2011, 30 new 4G LTE networks are expected to launch, according to research firm IHS iSuppli, boosting a mobile infrastructure market that suffered losses in both 2009 and 2010.

The Dell'Oro Group reported Feb. 14 that-with a boost from LTE and ongoing investments in 3G WCDMA (wireless Code Division Multiple Access)-revenues in the mobile infrastructure market will rise from $34 billion in 2010 to $42 billion in 2015.