GigaOm tracked down a very interesting new development in mobile broadband. It seems that Harbinger Capital Partners is planning a major LTE Move via SkyTerra and a large assorted pile of satellite and terrestrial spectrum, with additional involvement possible from Terrestar which it also owns a chunk of. The idea seems to be to build out terrestrial LTE networks in urban areas and serve rural areas with LTE via satellite, with the whole network offered on a wholesale basis. The FCC seems to be relaxing restrictions on the spectrum usage in exchange for buildout guarantees, in the hopes of improving the competitive landscape.
The rollout would begin in Q3/2011 and cover 100M people by the end of 2012. However, Harbinger still needs to find a way to pay for it all, whatever choices they might make will take billions of dollars – just ask Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR, news, filings). They need partners before they can do more than make plans. However, there are enough breadcrumbs here to point very, very obviously toward T-Mobile. T-Mobile has been talking up its USA commitment but it is too short of spectrum and partners to actually do anything, and its preference for LTE limit how far it could work with Sprint and Clearwire. But working with Harbinger and SkyTerra would seem to fit like a glove strategically. Of course other 4G entrants with partnership needs like LEAP and MetroPCS might also be involved. The end result theoretically could challenge Verizon Wireless and AT&T.
My questions about all this involve just how well satellite provided LTE is going to work. On the plus side, it will work everywhere whereas other 4G providers will hand off to 3G and 2G when roaming too far out of urban areas. Such a network can if nothing else be the glue that holds together otherwise isolated islands of 4G service. On the minus side though, there’s a reason we don’t all use 3G satellite phones – they’re expensive, clunky, and have lag issues. On the other hand, 4G bandwidth with lag out in the boonies may be better than the 2G/3G alternatives, and back in town you would use the terrestrial service.
Nevertheless, if they manage to meld a combination of terrestrial wireless, satellite, and fiber backhaul into a unified whole then the final result will surely be a sight to behold. It’s a magnificent vision, and I do hope it gets off the ground.