LightSquared lines up Sharp for devices

Sharp will make smartphones and tablets to use the carrier's controversial LTE network

LightSquared has lined up Sharp as its first partner to build smartphones and tablets for its planned LTE network, as the carrier stepped up its rhetoric about interference between that network and GPS.

Sharp will provide the devices to carriers, retailers and other wholesale partners that will resell services on the LightSquared network, LightSquared said Monday. The startup plans to offer the LTE (Long Term Evolution) network as well as a satellite-based system and let wholesale partners sell service on either or both. Its plan has come under fire because of interference between the LTE system and GPS.

In a press release on Monday, LightSquared did not mention the Sharp devices being able to use LightSquared's satellite network, which is designed to provide coverage throughout the U.S. that would complement the faster LTE service in metropolitan areas.

LightSquared already has at least one partner developing USB modems and internal modules for mobile devices and machine-to-machine communications. It announced last October that AnyData, in Irvine, California, would build such devices for sale in 2011. At the same time, LightSquared announced that Nokia and BandRich, in Taipei, would develop some devices. Qualcomm has included compatibility with both the satellite and LTE networks in mainstream chipsets, including the MDM9600.

Sharp, based in Japan, does not have a major presence in the U.S. mobile market. It currently provides one Android 2.2 smartphone, the FX Plus, that is offered free by AT&T.

LightSquared's LTE network will use frequencies that until now have been used only by mobile satellite services. The devices Sharp will develop, and the network LightSquared plans to offer, can't become available until LightSquared can demonstrate to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission that the network won't interfere with GPS equipment.

On Saturday, LightSquared General Counsel Curtis Lu accused GPS vendors of ignoring the need to make their devices resistant to interference and raised the company's most specific claim yet for the GPS industry to pay for fixes to its own devices.

In a prepared statement, Lu tallied up LightSquared's claimed costs to prevent interference. He said LightSquared will spend US$100 million to shift its initial operations from one part of its own spectrum. In addition, the company has invested $9 million in filtering technology to prevent its own equipment from transmitting in GPS spectrum and has offered to pay up to $50 million to retrofit government-owned precision GPS gear.

"So our total commitment to mitigating a problem that is not of our making is nearly $160 million-plus at this point. ... The only question left is: Who pays for the remaining devices that need a fix?," Lu said in the statement.

LightSquared said last month it has no current plans to pay for retrofits of all precision GPS equipment that may suffer from interference.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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