LightSquared's Proposed 4G Network Gets a Smart Grid Customer

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LightSquared, a rebranded satellite company with plans to build a nationwide Long Term Evolution wireless network, has found its first customer in Airspan Networks, a provider of connectivity to utilities for their smart grid efforts. Airspan Networks said yesterday it will resell some of LightSquared’s 1.4 GHz licensed spectrum to utilities, saying in its release:

Access to licensed spectrum has been a critical “missing link” in planning and implementing wireless Smart Grid communications for middle-mile backhaul applications and for last-mile access. ‘The combination of equipment and licensed spectrum eliminates the problem of relying on interference susceptible shared frequencies for mission- critical applications,’ said Paul Senior, Chief Technical Officer, Airspan Networks Inc. The 1.4 GHz licensed spectrum will be managed by Airspan and will be made available to utilities in their distinct geographic markets.

Those distinct markets will need to dovetail with LightSquared’s roll out plans, as the network won’t actually be turned on until the third quarter of next year, and it will take until 2015 until it covers most of the nation. LightSquared, which is backed by private equity fund Harbinger Capital Partners, has plans to build out its LTE network first in Baltimore, Phoenix, Denver and Las Vegas. By the end of 2012, it hopes to have 100 million people covered, reaching 145 million by the end of 2013. Harbinger said in statements to the FCC that all major markets will be installed by the end of the second quarter of 2013.

LightSquared, formerly known as SkyTerra, is building a terrestrial and satellite network that it hopes to resell to retailers, network operators and other buyers. Regulatory requirements will force much of LightSquared’s network to have end-user equipment that is tuned to both the satellite and terrestrial portions of the network, adding expense for customers, as two types of radio receivers will be required inside their devices. However, LightSquared does have 13 MHz of terrestrial-only spectrum (8MHz of that is in the 1.4 GHz band that Airspan will use), which would allow some customers to use LTE-only radios in their client devices, and cut costs.

The smart grid — which will add digital intelligence to the power grid, including connecting utilities with power customers — might be a perfect customer for LightSquared. The capacity needs aren’t as high as a consumer-oriented connected service, and utilities that need access to licensed spectrum for security or reliability purposes are also likely to pay more for the privilege on a per-byte basis.

Some utilities have said they would prefer using licensed spectrum for smart grid deployments, so that traffic won’t face possible interference and needs can be prioritized (over say consumer traffic). Other smart grid vendors like Grid Net — which is backed by Cisco (s CSCO) and Intel (s INTC) — are also looking at how to use LTE for smart grid deployments. With the support of Grid Net, Intel and GE (s ge), WiMAX has also found a surprising new opportunity for utility smart grid projects.

If LightSquared can get its network built, and find more niche resellers like Airspan, it may be more successful than I originally gave it credit for.

Related GigaOM Pro Content (sub req’d): New Opportunities in the Smart Grid

Image courtesy of -5M

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