Insights

May 23, 2016Doug Smith

Looking Forward to a 5G Future for the U.S. Wireless Industry

Each day, American businesses are designing countless new machines and products to send and receive information. In many instances, it’s not only just new machines and products but also existing ones that are already equipped with technology to transmit information.

The range of opportunity is expansive, running the gamut from automobiles, thermostats and stop lights to electrical generation plants, manufacturing facilities and airport surveillance systems. Virtually every aspect of our lives is impacted by this growing need to enable more ways to connect and communicate.

With an abundance of new and existing products expected to transmit even more information over the coming decades, the wireless industry will continually have to invest in advanced networks and infrastructure to accommodate demand and manage rapidly increasing volume. Meeting this fundamental need will bring even more change and greater opportunities for investment, job creation, productivity, and improvement in our standard of living.

The United States has led the way in the global information revolution, and maintaining global leadership in next-generation communications technology and innovation is essential to America’s economic growth. As we prepare, however, to enter this transformative period in communications – the Fifth Generation, or 5G for short – success will require new inventive genius, not only on the industry’s part but also from the federal government.

Ligado Networks is eager to be an integral part of this new wireless age. That’s why today we filed more details of our plan with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), laying out how we intend to make full use of vital mid-band spectrum to accelerate the move to 5G. Our applications to the FCC are the result of much collaboration with interested stakeholders in the federal government and across industry. We are committed to data-driven problem solving to finally deploy this mid-band spectrum for terrestrial use, upon FCC approval.

Through its forward-looking spectrum policies, the FCC has always played an instrumental role in creating the foundation for our nation’s leadership in mobile wireless over the past decades. In this regard, the Commission correctly recognizes that future deployments of wireless networks will be focused on implementation of wireless technologies and architectures identified with 5G.

This next generation encompasses many new capabilities offering numerous new benefits – among them the promise to connect people and things in ways that boggle the imagination. Policymakers must identify more unencumbered, greenfield spectrum for wireless network builders to enable the deployment of these advanced networks.

Why? Network operators must ensure that today’s networks continue to meet the growing demand from existing customers who increasingly use smartphones, tablets and personal hotspots to connect to the Internet while on-the-go. Of course, operators will continue to invest in wireless infrastructure and install new spectrum to support their existing networks. However, the challenge comes when we ask those same operators to devote those same frequencies to building a new 5G network. That is like trying to build a boat at the same time you are trying to sail the boat.

Advanced networks need new real estate – greenfield spectrum not currently in use – if we are to successfully build next-generation networks. The 5G future demands that we use scarce spectrum resources as efficiently or smartly as possible. It represents the culmination of research and experience in operating networks. The 5G network will use the very latest technologies, such as taking advantage of the ability of radio signals to take multiple paths from transmitter to receiver and to create bandwidth multipliers.

Also crucial to this efficient future is that different frequencies are deployed in ways that exploit their comparative advantages. Longer distance communications (over many miles) should take place on lower band spectrum that is best used in coverage type networks. Shorter distance communications (over several miles) should utilize mid-band spectrum best suited for flexible coverage and capacity use. Very short distance communications (well under a mile) should take place on very high frequencies with wider channels that support the greatest capacities. Only by utilizing such network architecture will spectrum be put to its most efficient uses and the 5G future be realized.

The FCC has already begun to open the new frontier of very high frequencies for millimeter wave length radio waves. And the FCC has arranged a first-ever auction of broadcast spectrum in which as much as 100 MHz of spectrum currently used by television stations may be sold to wireless companies. The missing piece in all this is the creation of ample new mid-band spectrum to be used for 5G.

For 13 years now, businesses and government have struggled to figure out the highest and best use of the mid-band spectrum between 1500 MHz and 1700 MHz. We are optimistic, now more than ever, that technological advancements, engineering and commercial breakthroughs have created an opportunity to expand public and private satellite and terrestrial network uses of the mid-band while protecting important existing uses. The timing of these important developments is perfect because Ligado’s frequencies represent a prime greenfield opportunity to fill the mid-band needs of these future networks.

Today, Ligado operates a satellite network in the mid-band, providing mobile connectivity throughout North America. Our partners in government and industry, such as public safety and transportation, use our network for emergency response, remote monitoring and numerous other mission-critical applications.

We have presented to the FCC a proposal to utilize our terrestrial mid-band spectrum as a greenfield opportunity that is aligned with the Commission’s stated goals of providing the foundation of the 5G future. By deploying 40 MHz of smart capacity on mid-band spectrum, we can create a model of at least a partial 5G network – a next-generation, hybrid satellite-terrestrial network – that will enable 5G use cases and mobile applications that require ultra-reliable, highly-secure and pervasive connectivity.

To make all of this a reality, we have taken a number of steps to ensure satellites using other mid-band spectrum can still successfully send signals to smartphones, GPS devices and specialized industrial equipment that rely on that data.

The GPS industry has demonstrated acceptance of our proposal and will likely benefit if it were adopted. Last fall – with the three major GPS device manufacturers Garmin, Deere and Trimble – we established consensus technical parameters for our terrestrial operations that protect the functionality of GPS devices. We reached the agreements by asking the device makers what they needed. Specifically, we asked what were the right power levels to be written into the mid-band licenses. Codifying these technical parameters benefits the GPS industry not only by guaranteeing interference-free reception of GPS signals but also by eliminating the negative effects to the industry from regulatory uncertainty.

We also hired a world-class engineering firm, Roberson and Associates, to study how GPS can be protected. The great news is that, as a result of the power reductions, there is no evidence that GPS users or manufacturers will be harmed by Ligado’s proposed operations. Significantly, cellular devices and consumer devices representing the vast majority of the GPS market are not adversely impacted by our planned deployment.

These are huge wins for all stakeholders and represent a breakthrough in spectrum policy that presents significant opportunities for the U.S. We at Ligado hope to work together with the industry to set up a trial network to demonstrate the next-generation uses of the mid-band spectrum simultaneously for terrestrial and satellite services. This would be one of the earliest American demonstrations of an advanced next-generation network and could kick-start our mission to serve the information explosion that comes in 5G.

I am fortunate to be part of a new Ligado team experienced in building networks using the first, second, third and fourth generations of wireless technologies. We all want to be part of the next generation, and its importance to our country cannot be underestimated.

Our new leadership team is motivated to develop and support solutions that will allow us to ultimately maximize efficient use of our spectrum. Let me highlight some examples of our spirit of cooperation and commitment to problem solving:

  • We asked the FCC to bar terrestrial use of a 10-MHz block near the GPS frequencies, noting that block should be for satellite use only.
  • We promised the Federal Aviation Administration that we will use power levels that defer to all published technical standards related to airline safety and performance.
  • We support a government-conducted single national auction for the spectrum adjacent to our upper band.
  • We propose that whoever wins that license in such an auction should be required to fund the creation of and transition to a high speed Internet access and cloud-based distribution of weather data. This new delivery system would give more academics and non-profits highly reliable, secure, low-latency and affordable access to this important data.

We’ve taken all of these steps because we genuinely believe Ligado’s mid-band spectrum is a complementary asset that will fill an essential need in future 5G deployments and will open up profound opportunities to help America maintain its global leadership position in wireless technologies.

We want to be a partner with government and industry and do our part to turn this plan into reality. And so we say to anyone with an interest:

If you have a question, ask us. If you have a need, let us help address it. If you have a concern, let us look into it.

And let’s do so with candor and a can-do attitude: The future is not waiting for us or America.

The future – with 5G and GPS working in concert – is now.