Bloomberg News

LightSquared Vows Lower Data Bills as U.S. Weighs Approval

December 12, 2011

(Updates with interference-test results in fifth paragraph.)

Dec. 9 (Bloomberg) -- LightSquared Inc.’s proposed wholesale wireless network will let retail partners cut customers’ mobile-data costs in half, the company’s chief executive said.

Pricing will begin at $7 a gigabyte for the high-speed Internet service, which now has more than 30 partners including Sprint Nextel Corp. and Best Buy Co., LightSquared CEO Sanjiv Ahuja said today in an interview at Bloomberg headquarters in New York. That may help lower monthly bills to about $50 a month from about $100, he said.

“Through our service, phone companies will be able to drop the consumers’ bill by 50 percent,” Ahuja said.

LightSquared, backed by billionaire Philip Falcone, faces challenges from makers of global-positioning system devices who say the service will disrupt navigation by cars, boats, tractors and planes.

U.S. regulators who must approve the service are conducting tests of the service and haven’t announced results. A draft report prepared for U.S. officials said the service caused interference to 75 percent of devices tested recently.

While the promise of a lower-cost mobile service at a time of surging data demand is significant, an even larger issue for LightSquared is whether it can put all the pieces together soon enough, said Jonathan Chaplin, an analyst with Credit Suisse Group AG.

“Seven dollars isn’t bad, but it’s less disruptive than we expected,” said Chaplin, adding that the market rate is about $10 a gigabyte.

FCC Review

Chaplin said he estimates the company has until April to get more cash. “Their real issue -- 100 percent of it -- is time, because they have so much debt,” he said.

LightSquared will be adequately funded through the government’s review period, Ahuja said. “We’ll have capital beyond when we expect FCC clearance to happen,” he said. “That should be the early part of next year.”

The Federal Communications Commission is considering whether to allow Reston, Virginia-based LightSquared to start operations and use airwaves formerly reserved mainly for satellites. The company should be barred from using some airwaves for its planned network to avoid interference with navigation equipment, makers and users of GPS devices have said.

LightSquared, backed by $3 billion from Falcone’s Harbinger Capital Partners hedge fund, this week said tests show that GPS devices from three makers won’t be disrupted by its network. In July, LightSquared said it expects to be able to offer service to 260 million people in the U.S. by the end of 2014, a year earlier than required under its licenses with the FCC.

30 Customers

Separately, Harbinger said today it expects to suspend withdrawals from its hedge fund on Dec. 30 and that it has been notified by the Securities and Exchange Commission that it may be sued by the agency over alleged “violations of the federal securities laws.”

Ahuja named more than 30 customers that have signed on for LightSquared’s service and promised some bigger names once the company gains approval to start operations from the FCC.

Clients range from established carriers including Sprint to startups, such as FreedomPop, a communications venture that lists Skype Technologies SA co-founder Niklas Zennstrom as a backer.

The customer gains signal demand for LightSquared’s service, even as it faces delays amid scrutiny from regulators. The company is building the high-speed network to challenge wholesalers such as Clearwire Corp. and larger phone companies such as Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc.

--Editors: Michael Shepard, Peter Elstrom

To contact the reporters on this story: Scott Moritz in New York at smoritz6@bloomberg.net; Todd Shields in Washington at tshields3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peter Elstrom at pelstrom@bloomberg.net; Michael Shepard at mshepard7@bloomberg.net


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