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Dish Networks defends its satellite LTE plan

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Back in August, satellite TV operator Dish Network launched an ambitious plan to create a 4G mobile broadband network based on LTE technology. The idea is similar to the service that LightSquared is currently trying to roll out: Dish Network would deploy a number of terrestrial base stations to support mobile broadband devices, and those stations would be linked into a network not by backhauls and fiber, but by satellite uplinks. However, where there has been considerably concern that LightSquared’s service could interfere with GPS reception, Dish Network says there are no such interference issues with its proposal—and it could bring wireless broadband to almost every American.

“Dish, a satellite operator with a proven track record of investment, competition, and innovation, seeks the transfer of underutilized spectrum and satellite resources from the hands of two bankrupt companies—a move that will put DISH on sure footing to begin to compete aggressively with entrenched nationwide wireless providers,” the company wrote in a response to the FCC (PDF).

To move the plan along, Dish Network acquired bankrupt satellite mobile operator TerreStar and made a separate deal for spectrum controlled by DBSD North America. But to actually start operations and testing, Dish Network needs a waiver to offer single-mode terrestrial devices to run on its network. similar to a waiver the FCC granted to LightSquared back in January.

However, Dish’s proposed network is quite different from LightSquared’s. Where LightSquared proposes to use L-band frequencies near 1.6GHz—adjacent to frequencies reserved for GPS—Dish’s network proposes to use 40 MHz of 2 GHz S-band MSS spectrum. The location of Dish’s network blocks is well out of the way of GPS signals, eliminating any possibility the network could interfere with low-power GPS reception. Di

Of course, that doesn’t mean other folks haven’t been claiming Dish’s proposal would interfere with their services: that 2.0 GHz block is right next to a 1.9 GHz block used for some mobile phone services, and both T-Mobile and the CTIA claim the system will cause “harmful” interference. Dish refuted those claims.

“The 3rd Generation Partnership Project, with participation from CTIA members, reached a consensus agreement just a few months ago on interference protection standards for 2 GHz LTE devices, laying to rest any real interference concerns,” Dish wrote.

Dish also noted its network plan is supported by Globalstar and the U.S. GPS Industry Council.

While neither AT&T nor Verizon Wireless had anything to say about Dish’s plan, Sprint and MetroPCS (both LightSquared partners) weighed in with objections of its own, asking the FCC to require Dish to submit a business plan before being permitted to launch a network, as well as commit to an aggressive build-out schedule and guaranteed pricing like LightSquared. Dish objected to those proposed requirements, noting that its proposed build-out conditions were modelled after those Sprint itself accepted in its Nextel and Clearwire deals.

The FCC has yet to weigh in on whether it will grant Dish Network the necessary waivers to begin building a network; without the waivers, Dish is unlikely to invest in building out a terrestrial network to support service. But, especially for folks in rural areas not well-served by existing terrestrial broadband solutions, the prospect of service from multiple satellite-assisted broadband networks has got to be more attractive then just having one—especially if that one makes their GPS receivers unreliable.

A mobile broadband network may also attract investors and (eventually) bolster Dish’s bottom line: the company’s most recent financial results saw the company losing 111,000 subscribers during the quarter, although it kept investors happy with a $2-per-share one-time dividend. However, some are taking the payout as an indication Dish isn’t serious about marshaling its financial resources to build an LTE network.