Satellite carrier may open new Wi-Fi channel for US

Globalstar might hold the key to Channel 14, not available in the US yet, with its proposal to make better use of its spectrum

By , IDG News Service |  Networking

The company's 2400MHz frequencies might eventually host satellite, Wi-Fi and LTE services, with LTE and Wi-Fi offered in different areas depending on the need, Ponder said.

"Ultimately, the market would determine the highest and best use for that spectrum," Ponder said. "If there is an enormous number of people ... who fall in love with our TLPS and can't live without it, then of course I think that ... should ultimately dictate what the outcome is," he said.

An exclusive network with Channel 14 might be very attractive to mobile operators, said analyst Phil Marshall of Tolaga Research.

"It's more spectrum that can be used for mobile broadband and you will have greater control over it, as well as the advantage of it being at 2.4GHz," which is compatible with existing silicon, Marshall said.

However, despite that link to existing chips, orchestrating a change of this magnitude across enough Wi-Fi networks, phones and tablets might be a challenge, analysts said. Helping subscribers upgrade their current devices might be complicated and expensive for the service provider, and relying on users to buy new devices made with the feature would take time.

"It doesn't seem like a good idea to wait for an upgrade cycle in phones ... in order to build a huge base of subscribers," Farpoint's Mathias said. Meanwhile, many schools, stadiums and other venues already have Wi-Fi networks and may not want another one, because of management requirements and other issues, he said.

Those challenges exist amid an already competitive market for hotspots, with carriers such as AT&T and T-Mobile and third parties such as Boingo offering thousands of networks in public places. "If you want access to a public Wi-Fi service, you've got a lot of them to choose from already," Mathias said.

The plan is likely to draw opposition from some existing mobile operators, even if it gives one of them a chance to offer an exclusive wireless LAN channel, Farpoint's Mathias said.

"When you have a service, nobody wants to see that service expanded by someone else," Mathias said. At the FCC, "this is not a slam dunk by any stretch of the imagination," he said.

Globalstar has high hopes for approval, especially for the TLPS part of its plan. Along with the 20,000 free hotspots, it plans to offer free access to its satellite-based services in federal disaster areas after natural or man-made disasters.

"Near term, there's just very little standing in the FCC's way to allowing us to provide the service," Ponder said.

However, the company is seeking a full FCC rulemaking including periods for public comment, and it's not expecting overnight success.

"We look at this as a multi-month process," Ponder said.

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