Deal may improve wireless network

Published 1:01 am Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A case pending before the Federal Communications Commission may have implications for eastern North Carolina.

News reports show that earlier this summer, billionaire Philip Falcone’s LightSquared Inc. struck a 15-year deal with Sprint Nextel Corp. to share network expansion costs and equipment in an effort aimed at making them stronger wireless competitors.

The reports explained further that LightSquared would pay Sprint to build and operate a nationwide wireless network that uses high-speed long-term evolution, or 4G LTE technology. During an 11-year period, LightSquared would pay Sprint $9 billion in cash and credits valued at about $4.5 billion. Sprint may use the credits to acquire capacity from LightSquared, which plans to offer wholesale wireless service to consumer electronics companies and other telecommunications operators.

John Taylor, public affairs manager with Sprint, discussed Sprint’s operations in North Carolina and the current status of Sprint’s deal with LightSquared Inc.

“Your part of the state, I believe, is a mix of AT&T and Verizon as the incumbent phone company. After that, there are probably local independent phone companies and then some rural companies. And then some phone co-ops,” Taylor said.

“As for Washington, specifically, I have no idea who your landline incumbent is,” said Taylor in broad reference to a question about how phone and Internet services are provided in North Carolina.

He also noted there are several unresolved issues with the LightSquared Inc deal.

“Our contract with LightSquared is just that. It’s a contract that we are going to build a network for LightSquared. They are paying us in advance to have that network built,” he said. “But right now, LightSquared is in a regulatory dispute over GPS. Whether there is interference with existing GPS systems deployed across the country at the same frequencies that LightSquared proposes using. If so, the GPS issue would have to be resolved at the FCC before we would turn on that network.

“We also, as part of our agreement, have to turn in credits; basically they are purchasing credits. So, we can go to LightSquared and say, ‘We are going to use some of our credits and deploy your 4G network in this market.’”

Whether this deal would extend into North Carolina is uncertain.

“Even if LightSquared says, ‘OK, we are going to be deploying in Asheville, Wilmington, Charlotte, Chapel Hill and Elizabeth City,’ let’s say, it wouldn’t necessarily mean that Sprint would be deploying anything in those markets through LightSquared because the network is going to have to be built first, and then we may or may not exercise our options to use those credits,” he said. “We have to have the ability to access the network if the GPS issue is resolved. But we may choose not to do so.”

Larger changes in North Carolina’s phone and Internet services are coming regardless of whether the Sprint-LightSquared Inc. deal moves forward, he said.

Taylor commented on where he sees the issue moving.

“There as some things I think most consumers understand when it comes to mobile broadband in North Carolina or the wireless kind that is. Most consumers understand that the deployment of 4G in North Carolina means a faster data rate than what’s been offered in 3G,” he said. “It’s up to 10 times faster than what is in 3G markets. What this means for consumers is that they can download and upload really heavy files relatively quickly. So, when you have those fast upload and download speeds, it changes your ability to work wherever you want to work.”