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Sharp to design first LTE smartphones, tablets for LightSquared


02/10/2011

LightSquared may still be facing off against the government and GPS device makers over whether it can launch its proposed LTE network (CP: Senator demands to know who will pay for LightSquared GPS retrofit), but it’s making preparations for that commercial launch nonetheless. Today it announced Sharp will design the first smartphones and tablets for the LightSquared network.

More on this Topic Industry News Blogs Briefing Room

LightSquared wholesale LTE customers won’t be able to offer the same smartphones that Verizon Wireless and AT&T stock. Rather LightSquared will need devices that access its 1.6 GHz L-band spectrum, which it currently doesn’t share in common with any other terrestrial wireless network provider. Even then Sharp and other device makers won’t be able to make devices that work universally for all of LightSquared’s customers. Due to LightSquared’s unique wholesale business model, its carrier and mobile virtual network operator customers will be bringing their own networks to the mix, each using different bands and technologies.

For instance, one of LightSquared’s major carrier customers, Leap Wireless, runs a CDMA network at PCS and Advanced Wireless Service (AWS) frequencies and plans to launch an LTE network of its own in its regional CDMA footprint (Unfiltered: Leap covering all of its 4G bases). Leap, however, has signed up with LightSquared to provide additional LTE capacity in its footprint and mobile broadband roaming outside of it (CP: Leap taps LightSquared for LTE roaming and backup). To serve Leap, LightSquared will need to help it procure phones with CDMA at PCS and AWS, LTE at whichever frequency Leap launches over, as well as LTE in LightSquared’s 1 GHz band.

For a company like Sprint, which will access LightSquared’s LTE capacity as well as host its network (CP: Sprint confirms LightSquared LTE tie-up), the supply chain becomes even more complicated. Sprint’s CDMA network is unified under PCS, but its 4G bands are all over the place. Sprint may opt to launch its own LTE using the 800 MHz currently occupied by its iDEN network or it could continue its close relationship with Clearwire offering WiMAX or Time Dvision-LTE at 2.5 GHz (CP: Can Clearwire build a TD-LTE ecosystem?) Either way Sprint’s devices will have a unique configuration of bands and technologies, on top of which it will need support for LightSquared’s 1.6 GHz band.

For some of LightSquared’s retail partners, the logistics are easier. Best Buy will resell LightSquared’s capacity (CP: LightSquared lands Best Buy), but given its approach to mobile so far—selling pure data plans over a single network or a combination of networks—it will likely need simple LTE USB modems, which will be relatively easy to procure. If Best Buy becomes a full-bore wireless MVNO offering smartphones, things get more complicated. But it may choose to simply offer a VoIP service, using the same LTE network for voice and data.

Sharp has its work cut out for it. Designing a smartphone for LightSquared’s LTE network isn’t as simple as producing a single smartphone. Unless it plans to stick to all-data VoIP designs and tablets, it will have to build the same smartphone in multiple configurations in order to reach all ends of LightSquared’s disparate customer base.



 

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