Your browser is not supported. Please update it.

13 September 2022

Despite iPhone deal, Globalstar is still searching for Band 53 customers

By Wireless Watch Staff

Satellite companies have a chequered history when it comes to trying to enhance the monetization value of their spectrum by supporting hybrid satellite/terrestrial services.

The USA’s Ligado Networks (formerly mobile satellite operator LightSquared) still faces disputes with the GPS community over accusations that 5G signals in its hybrid network, in L-band spectrum, will interfere with positioning systems. These delays to commercialization forced LightSquared into bankruptcy protection, and Ligado still has an uphill battle.

An even longer saga of setbacks is associated with Globalstar, which also survived bankruptcy filings earlier in the century, though it has emerged with new management and a new fleet of satellites in both geostationary (GEO) and low-earth orbit (LEO) markets. One of its assets is a chunk of spectrum in 2483.5 – 2495 MHz (Band 53 in 3GPP terms, S-band for satellite), in which the company has invested significant time and money in order to widen its commercial potential. It finally managed to get the FCC to approve the band for terrestrial and hybrid services, and also got the 3GPP to include it as a standard 5G band.

This followed years of working on a technology called TLPS (terrestrial low power service), which aimed to exploit its spectrum’s adjacency to the unlicensed 2.4 GHz ISM band, used by WiFi and other radios. It trialled the service with Amazon, with a view to running a private network, using WiFi-like technology. That would have been able to support WiFi devices while offering partners a more secure and quality-controlled spectrum environment than the 2.4 GHz wild west.

The plan foundered on FCC and mobile industry opposition, and fears of interference with WiFi, and now Globalstar’s ambitions are focused on 5G. Its biggest breakthrough is Apple’s pledge to include Band 53 terrestrial support in the new iPhone 14, though the satellite-based emergency text service, unveiled with that new handset (see separate item), does not actually used Band 53, according to satellite industry consultant  Tim Farrar of TMF Associates.

“It uses L-band for uplink and S-band for downlink, in the same way as any other Globalstar satellite services,” he told FierceWireless.

Meanwhile, Globalstar still needs to identify customers who need Band 53, probably in the private networks arena – the company already has a project with the Port of Seattle for instance, though commentators question how much potential demand there would be for Band 53 networks, even with iPhones on board, when the USA also has the option of shared or lightly licensed airwaves in CBRS. Enterprise operators could avoid spectrum fees by using the general access portion of CBRS, rather than paying Globalstar to use Band 53, though the latter does provide global roaming options, unlike CBRS.

Globalstar needs the boost that the Apple news has brought, even if it is still seeking a business model for Band 53. Its revenues have fallen from about $132m in 2019 to $124m last year and it swung from a small net profit of $15m to a net loss of nearly $113m in the same period, and carries debt obligations of $265.2m.