FCC Gives Ligado's L-Band 5G Proposal the Thumbs Up

The US Federal Communications Commission has voiced its support for an application by Ligado Networks to use the L-band spectrum to create a wireless 5G network.

Ligado's proposed network will be created by repurposing a stretch of L-band spectrum used principally to connect smart devices and other IoT (internet of things) sensors. 

In a statement released April 16, FCC chairman Ajit Pai said: “After many years of consideration, it is time for the FCC to make a decision and bring this proceeding to a close. 

“We have compiled an extensive record, which confirms that it is in the public interest to grant Ligado’s application while imposing stringent conditions to prevent harmful interference.”

Ligado has been seeking to modify its FCC license since 2010 so that it can create a terrestrial communications network. The company currently operates one geostationary satellite named SkyTerra-1 that covers Hawaii and North America. 

In recent years, Ligado has amended its application to significantly reduce the power levels of its base stations from 32 dBW to 9.8 dBW (a reduction of 99.3%). Chairman Pai said Ligado has also committed to providing a significant (23 megahertz) guard-band using its own licensed spectrum to further separate its terrestrial base station transmissions from neighboring operations in the Radionavigation-Satellite Service allocation.

"Ligado is now only seeking terrestrial use of the 1526–1536 MHz, 1627.5–1637.5 MHz, and 1646.5–1656.5 MHz bands," said Pai. "The Order is conditioned to reflect these technical requirements." 

Industry officials and leaders from congressional defense committees have expressed concern over Ligado's proposed network, which they fear will drown out GPS signals. 

Commercial satellite operator Iridium, which operates 66 satellites in low-earth orbit on an L-band network, has emerged as a staunch opponent of Ligado's L-band plan. In a statement published April 14, Iridium CEO Matt Desch denigrated the Ligado proposal, describing it as a "5G mirage" that could disrupt Iridium's crucial service to aviation and military customers. 

“A bunch of speculators want to make billions at the expense of our warfighters, supply chains and aircraft navigation systems,” said Desch. “The FCC must resist and deny this petition!”

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