Open Range does 180 on network plans, tapping LightSquared for LTE

openrangeIt looks like Open Range Communications’ has abandoned WiMax as well as its partnership with Globalstar. Today the rural broadband provider announced an “agreement of principle” (CP: Open Range-LightSquared joint press release) with LightSquared to lease the satellite-operator-turned-LTE-wholesaler’s L-band spectrum to roll out a long-term evolution network. The deal also includes a reciprocal roaming provision, allowing Open Range customers to roam on LightSquared’s networks and LightSquared’s other wholesale customers to roam on the Open Range built sites. Finally, Open Range will buy satellite time on LightSquared’s orbital broadband network filling in the big gaps in its primarily rural markets.

You may recall that Open Range already signed this exact same deal, except it was with Globalstar. The operator intended to build a WiMax network using Alvarion gear using Globalstar’s satellite spectrum, filling in those aforementioned gaps with actual satellites (CP: Open Range taps Alvarion for rural WiMax network and Open Range to use Alvarion beam splitting). But Globalstar failed to meet several FCC requirements relating to its satellite coverage and interference with neighboring 2.5 GHz bands, causing it to lose its ancillary terrestrial component (ATC) license. Open Range was given until the end of January to find new spectrum before being forced to shut down the WiMax networks it already runs in 97 communities. Enter LightSquared.

But partnering with LightSquared may mean that Open Range will have to start over from scratch. Alvarion makes LTE gear, but only in the Time Division Duplexing (TDD) flavor using a single channel for both uplink and downlink (Alvarion is one of the pioneers of TDD technology after all). Assuming was Alvarion was able to migrate its BreezeMax gear to TD-LTE and retune its radios a whole gigahertz downwards, it would still face the problem of making it fit into LightSquared’s spectrum configuration. LightSquared is deploying a frequency division duplexing (FDD) network, which would split the uplink and downlink between separate 5 MHz channels, which it will eventually upgrade to 10 MHz. (LightSquared’s network configuration is explained in detail in CP: LightSquared swapping spectrum with Inmarsat). To become part of the LightSquared network team, Open Range will have to find a new vendor and build new networks.

There is one caveat: LightSquared will have some red-head stepchild spectrum leftover when it finishes swapping out licenses with other satellite providers—13 MHz to be exact—which it doesn’t know what to do with. LightSquared Chief Network Officer Drew Caplan told us that the operator is considering designating 5 MHz of that spectrum for a single TDD channel. That could solve Open Range’s immediate problem, but it would effectively make its roaming agreement with LightSquared worthless. If Open Range is running a TDD network while LightSquared builds an FDD network everywhere else, they might as well be running separate standards. Without costly dual-mode chipsets, one operator’s devices couldn’t connect to the other’s networks.

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