Globalstar gets OK for rural WiMax

Broadband satellite service provider Globalstar has been granted temporary permission to offer some WiMax terrestrial services through a partner, opening the way for a five-year rollout of rural mobile services beginning next year.

The Federal Communications Commission granted its permission in a split vote last week, although the service offering fails to meet FCC technical requirements for fully integrated space-based and terrestrial services. The waiver will let Globalstar and its partner, Open Range Communications Inc., begin deployment using a $267 million loan from the Agriculture Department's Rural Development Utilities Program.

At issue was whether the terrestrial services offered by Open Range are actually ancillary to the satellite-based services for which Globalstar has a license. The FCC allows ancillary terrestrial component (ATC) services only if they support licensed satellite operations, which means ATC must be fully integrated with Mobile Satellite Services (MSS).

The commissioners found that the Globalstar-Open Range offering presently is not fully integrated. But based on promises to remedy that situation and the availability of USDA loan commitment to begin deployment, they agreed to let the service offering proceed for a limited time, with permission to move some terrestrial services to the WiMax protocol.

'The net effect of our ruling is to ensure that the licensee and its business partner can take advantage of a $267 million loan commitment,' commissioner Michael J. Copps wrote in the order authorizing the waiver. 'This funding will support WiMax-based wireless broadband coverage in 546 rural communities by 2013. Of particular importance, our waiver is strictly time-limited'the licensee must update its satellite system by mid-2010 and provide consumers with updated handsets by mid-2011.'

There were disagreements, however.

'It should go without saying that all Americans, no matter where they live or work, should have affordable access to robust and reliable broadband products and services,' Chairman Kevin J. Martin and Commissioner Robert M. McDowell wrote in a dissent of the order. 'At the same time, our rules have outlined the necessary preliminary requirements for operating a terrestrial service ancillary to a satellite system. This application does not meet these criteria and therefore sets an inappropriate precedent.'

ATC allows Mobile Satellite Service to be provided over a broader area by providing terrestrial links for users. Globalstar has a license allowing ATC operations using the cdma2000 air interface protocol in support of its MSS offering. Open Range is to operate the ATC services, through MSS/ATC dual-mode handheld terminals.

Globalstar requested a license modification allowing use of additional protocols, including WiMax with Time Division Duplex. It explained that technical choices for the service have expanded since its license application in 2005.

But the company was not able to offer completely integrated MSS and ATC services because of satellite problems.

'Two-way Globalstar MSS is not, at present, continuously available throughout the United States, due to deterioration of power amplifiers in satellite subsystems that transmit to Globalstar mobile terminals in the MSS S-band . . . ,' FCC wrote in explaining its order. 'Consequently, there are periods of time each day, at any given location, during which two-way communication is unavailable via the Globalstar MSS system.'

But Globalstar has promised to fix this.

'Once Globalstar's second generation satellites are launched and operational, the MSS system is anticipated to provide continuous coverage in both the L-band and the S-band, and will be providing a two-way, high-speed, wideband MSS data service reasonably comparable to the service provided through the ATC,' FCC wrote.

Open Range plans to begin a proof-of-concept trial for the WiMax-based ATC service early next year with 2,500 customers in five markets. This would be extended to 546 communities in 17 states over the next five years, bringing broadband service to rural areas not currently served by ground-based technologies.

'Globalstar and Open Range have presented a plan for transitioning these non-integrated terminals, at no cost to customers, to a newer device that will incorporate a high-speed MSS chipset when that chipset becomes available,' FCC wrote. 'Under these circumstances, operating authority [for ground operations] will be limited to WiMax operations, and conditioned upon transition to the newer device.'

'I support this waiver because, first, it is temporary in nature and imposes a strict set of conditions for noncompliance, and second, because it offers the potential to promote much-needed broadband service in rural America,' Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate wrote. 'It also is important to note that the Rural Development Utilities Program has provided a loan commitment, not a subsidy, which means Globalstar and Open Range must repay their debts. Most importantly, this conditioned and time-limited waiver helps the Commission advance one of our most crucial and also most challenging public policy goals: the deployment of broadband, especially for rural Americans.'

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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