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Ahuja: LightSquared is Making Big Wireless Companies Uncomfortable

Sanjiv Ahuja, CEO of LightSquared, said every square inch of the country would be able to receive wireless broadband via a satellite network he is proposing to launch, saying that the terrestrial component is a complement. He also suggests some of the political heat over the issue is because incumbents are uncomfortable with a wholesale wireless service that could lower prices to consumers big time.

That came in an interview for C-SPAN's Communicators series.

Asked if some of the heat and light on LightSquared was coming from the big carriers, Ahuja said because his network is wholesale only, it is a threat to vertically integrated wireless operators who decide for you what applications can services run on their network. For instance, can you run voice over IP. No you can't.

"Ours is an absolutely open network. We encourage people to run voice Over IP. We encourage you to run video. your prices as a consumer...should drop $30, $40, $50, $70 a month. That is straight money in your pocket. So, anytime you try to do a disruption in an industry, established players are uncomfortable. But that is expected," said Ahuja.

Ahuja said the battle is between LightSquared and big companies worth hundreds of billions. But he said the bottom line is that the market has a need -- capacity -- that can't currently be filled, and that is the gap LightSquared is trying to fill.

He said LightSquared has signed 17 companies for the service, which will all be able to be national carriers. He predicted that number could be as high as 100, providing more choice, lower price and wireless broadband capacity to anyone, including Verizon or sprint if they need capacity in places where there could be a shortage, like, say, New York City.

"What the industry is lacking is capacity," he said, which is what LightSquared can provide.

The FCC, which is looking to boost wireless capacity and increase competition for price and service, has given the company a conditional waiver to operate a terrestrial service using its satellite spectrum, but conditioned on it not interfering with GPS. So far, it has not met that condition, the FCC concluded, and is continuing testing.

Complaints from government agencies including the Department of Defense about GPS interference has generated a lot of political heat.

On the hot button issue of GPS, Ahuja said that after the company changed its business plan to use a portion of the spectrum further away from the GPS band, only about 500,000 of the 400 million devices would still be affected, and that it has found a receiver that will solve the problem with the 500,000, which are confined to devices used for agriculture, construction and surveying. He said personal GPS devices and cell phones would not be affected.

Asked about a seeming gulf between some predictions it would take billions of federal dollars to resolve the interference issue -- which has to do with highly sensitive receivers picking up LightSquared in-band transmission, Ahuja said that some had also predicted it would take ten years to come up with a technical fix and they had done it in less than ten weeks to demonstrate that the problem can be solved. "So, it is not as hard as some of the people might have believed.

He estimated that the federal government has between 30,000 and 50,000 of the precision receivers and his company as offered to pay $50 million to replace or refurbish or retrofit them. "We believe that is a sufficient amount of money to replace most of the receivers or fix most of the receivers that are out there."

He says in terms of Department of Defense systems that he has "absolute confidence" that they are resilient and can handle transmissions, not only LIghtSquared's in-band, but those actually going into the GPS band. He pointed out that you can go on ebay and get a GPS jammer for $20. "I am confident we are building defense systems that can handle things you can buy off ebay that are transmitting in the GPS frequency."