Globalstar's terrestrial WiFi will help satellite customers too

9 March 2013 by Steve Blum
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Won’t have to party like it’s 1999 anymore.

Globalstar is the latest satellite operator to discover the possibility of boosting return on investment by using assigned frequencies on the ground (h/t to David Witkowski for the heads up).

Globalstar has slice of spectrum immediately adjacent to the 2.4 GHz unlicensed band that’s heavily used for WiFi. The thinking is that customers can do a quick software update to extend a WiFi device’s frequency range a bit and then use Globalstar’s channel to access the Internet via a pay wall.

They’ve asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for permission. Since Globalstar’s circumstances have more in common with DISH Network’s successful request to repurpose satellite spectrum than Lightsquared’s unsuccessful one, they have a reasonable chance of getting it.

By limiting the service to urban areas where there’s relatively little use of its satellite service (which is little enough used as it is), Globalstar figures to avoid interference. That means, however, that the new channel would only be available via access points installed or blessed by Globalstar. So it would be a premium service targeted to specific market segments such as business travelers, large entertainment venues or crowded urban areas.

Contrary to some speculation, this plan wouldn’t do much to relieve wireless data congestion. Although smart phone users rely heavily on WiFi off-loading, they prefer free and easy hotspots to paid services, even when they’ve already paid for those services.

There are probably enough well-heeled customers out there who would pay for a premium service that worked transparently to make the business case for Globalstar. Since it would have to closely control the technical specifications of its access points, Globalstar could design them with “just works” functionality. There’s also an incentive to add WiFi and VoIP capability to satellite phones, making Globalstar’s core products more useful.

It could be enough to save the struggling company, making it a win-win play for both terrestrial and satellite broadband customers.