The six-ton satellite runs 72 feet across and, when fully functional, will be capable of providing wireless mobile services to millions of subscribers, according to LightSquared. The company, which has signed a contract with AT&T to provide cell phone service, plans to wholesale its service to carriers, which are increasingly constrained by the scarcity of spectrum. LightSquared also owns substantial amounts of spectrum.
After years of failures and bankruptcies, satellite cellular services have gradually been recording some successes and are looking promising, even as billions are being spent on the services. The LightSquared satellite, built by Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems, was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. LightSquared said the spacecraft separation and signal acquisition occurred on schedule a few hours after the launch.
"LightSquared is launching the world’s first truly integrated satellite-terrestrial network, computing our 4G-LTE terrestrial network with ubiquitous satellite coverage that will connect rural America and support emergency communications," said Sanjiv Ahuja, LightSquared’s chief executive officer, in a statement.
The satellite's solar panels, radiator panels and its L-band antenna are scheduled to be activated around the end of November. Another backup satellite is slated to be launched in the coming months. LightSquared has signed an agreement with Nokia Siemens Networks to build the terrestrial part of its network, and Qualcomm has been working on a consumer handset that is more user-friendly than the brick-sized devices that were the hallmark of earlier satellite services. LightSquared plans to offer service at 300 Kbps, though there are plans to provide high-speed LTE service in some selected areas. LightSquared is backed by Harbinger Capital Partners, a New York-based hedge fund.