What’s the Deal with MSS Spectrum?

By | November 29, 2012

Mobile Satellite Services (MSS) spectrum is bustling with activity. With so many failed satellite service companies, it is no surprise that spectrum earmarked for such services be converted, or allowed to co-exist with profitable mobile services. Here, I like to summarize some of the developments surrounding MSS spectrum.

1500-2500 MHz US Bandmap.

MSS Band Frequency Band (MHz) Bandwidth Licensees Potential Mobile Service Bandwidth
L 1525-1559 / 1626.5-1660.5 2 x 34 MHz SkyTerra (LightSquared), Inmarsat 30-40 MHz
S 2000-2020 / 2180-2200 2 x 20 MHz Dish (DBSD, TerreStar) 40 MHz
Big LEO 1610-1626.5 / 2483.5-2500 2 x 16.5 MHz Globalstar, Iridium 20 MHz

LightSquared: Licensed to operate in MSS L-Band spectrum: 1525-1544 MHz and 1545-1559 MHz / 1626.5-1645.5 MHz and 1646.5-1660.5 MHz. Interference with GPS service bordering the lower band is the key issue: GPS signal strength is much lower than mobile signals and the bandwidth of the GPS receivers is wide. High-precision GPS receives have a particularly wide bandwidth, pitting LightSquared against some of the most powerful users of GPS services: military and government users. The FCC had revoked Lightsquared’s license to operate LTE services but now the company proposes to permanently give up its right to deploy downlink service in 1545-1555 MHz, relocating the service instead to 1670-1680 MHz which consists of 5 MHz of LightSquared spectrum and another 5 MHz of spectrum (1675-1680 MHz) used by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for weather balloons. In total 30-40 MHz of spectrum can be available for mobile service.

Dish Networks: amassed its MSS spectrum through the acquisitions of DBSD and TerreStar for $2.7 billion in 2011. It plans LTE Advanced service in 2000-2020 / 2180-2200 MHz (FCC designated AWS-4; 3GPP Band 23). Dish and Sprint are at odds over frequency assignments: Sprint proposes for FCC to shift Dish’s spectrum by 5 MHz to 2005-2025 MHz, Dish counters that it will be adjacent to Broadcast Auxiliary Service (BAS) band and the base stations will not be able to block out interference from that band. This would clear the way for Sprint to deploy LTE services in the to-be-auctioned PCS H band (1915-1920 MHz and 1995-2000 MHz). Agreement would release 50 MHz of spectrum for mobile services.

Globalstar: Licensed to operate in the Big LEO band, Globalstar sunk more than $5 billion since its inception in its MSS network. The company has generally faltered, filing for bankruptcy in 2002 and at current count, it claims 550,000 subscribers. Earlier this month, Globalstar petitioned the FCC to allow it to operate FDD LTE service in parts of its spectrum band spanning 1610-1618.725 / 2483.5-2495 MHz. Until such a change is allowed, Globalstar proposes to use the Upper Big Leo band for WiFi type services (Terrestrial Low Power Service, or TLPS). This proposal is interesting as it creates a non-overlapping WiFi channel by joining the Globalstar band with the ISM band just below it (channel 14 spanning 2473 – 2495 MHz).  Globalstar proposes this spectrum be referred to as AWS-5.

Globalstar Terrestrial Low Power Service (TLPS).

Globalstar Terrestrial Low Power Service (TLPS) (Source: Globalstar).

In addition to the above MSS spectrum, let’s not forget AT&T’s agreement with XM Sirius on the band edge requirements for the WCS band which allows coexistence of mobile services with broadcast satellite service. This cleared at least 20 MHz of spectrum for LTE services.

So, what’s at stake? About 100 MHz of MSS spectrum that can be used for mobile services! Not a bad chunk considering the bandwidth demand of broadband wireless services. But it will not be an easy business model: each of these companies is very limited in spectrum for viable long-term business plan.

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