Hours away from defaulting on debt, LightSquared filed for bankruptcy protection Monday afternoon. What’s next? The company has said it would use the shelter of voluntary Chapter 11 to buy time in its fight to build its nationwide LTE network, but given how slim its chances are of winning that fight, this could just be a prelude to a liquidation of assets.
You can see the bankruptcy filing on TMF Associates blog (pdf), listing among its numerous creditors Boeing and Alcatel-Lucent, who have LightSquared on the hook for more than $ 7 million each for satellite and communications gear. The claim amounts from other creditors are much smaller, but there is a long list of them.
Philip Falcone, whose hedge fund Harbinger Capital owns LightSquared, foretold the filing last month, when he stated that bankruptcy might be the safest option for the would-be carrier, allowing it to fend off its lenders while it tried to move its nationwide LTE launch forward. In February, the Federal Communications Commission yanked a critical waiver LightSquared needed to use its satellite spectrum for terrestrial 4G when opposition from government agencies and the GPS industry started stacking up. The issue was the potential interference caused by LightSquared’s high-powered network to the country’s global positioning system satellite signals in an adjacent band.
LightSquared has been fighting the decision, demanding that the FCC either green light its network or supply it with replacement airwaves. But given the industry, government and political outcry against the company, neither scenario is likely to happen.
That leaves LightSquared a bunch of assets to get rid of in bankruptcy, and none of them are worth all that much. It has its satellites, which Boeing might retake possession of, and it has its spectrum, which was supposed to be its most valuable asset. If LightSquared’s gamble had paid off and the L-band repurposed for 4G use, those licenses would have been worth billions, but no mobile operator would buy them now.
There may be one exception. As TMF analyst Tim Farrar postulated in his blog, Dish Network might have a way of cleaning up LightSquared’s spectrum. Dish owns S-band satellite frequencies in a far off band. If it could combine that spectrum with LightSquared’s L-band frequencies it might be able to pull off not just workable, but extremely high-capacity LTE network, that would steer clear of the GPS bands entirely.
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