LightSquared will be a 'dumb pipe,' CEO says

The satellite-LTE carrier will commoditize wireless and turn to others for intelligence, Sanjiv Ahuja said

Satellite-LTE carrier LightSquared will be "the dumbest broadband wireless pipe," CEO Sanjiv Ahuja told a conference on Wednesday, warmly embracing a role that traditional mobile operators have rejected in varying degrees.

Ahuja envisions LightSquared's hybrid network as offering pure connectivity to be sold through partners, which so far include Sprint Nextel, Leap Wireless, Best Buy and several other service providers. Those partners, and device and application developers, will supply the innovation that adds value to the network, he said.

"I want no intelligence in our network. None. Zero," Ahuja said during a keynote address at the Open Mobile Summit in San Francisco. "We are an absolute utility." Innovation will come out of competition in an open environment like LightSquared's, not from the carrier itself, he said. Even suppliers of devices will be able to introduce new technologies for use on the network without working through LightSquared, he said.

Ahuja, who previously ran Orange, one of the world's largest mobile operators, said it isn't the place of a carrier to dictate or develop the hardware and software that defines the use of a network. There are other innovators around the world to bring those to market, he said. He pointed to a LightSquared "sandbox" facility in Silicon Valley where startups have come to get help from LightSquared on developing applications and services for the carrier's network.

Traditional wireline and wireless carriers have often tried to resist becoming providers of pure Internet connectivity, introducing specialized services and application stores. In the U.S., they have also customized the user interfaces on their phones and struck exclusive deals with device makers. The prospect of selling mobile data capacity by itself has been seen as a path to falling rates and profit margins.

However, the "vertically integrated model" that Ahuja said he has wanted to break down since 2007 has already eroded considerably since then. Even the biggest carriers have been tapping into outside sources of innovation and relinquishing some control to platform partners such as Apple and Google. Both AT&T and Verizon have established development centers to draw in new software and hardware ideas from startups, though the carriers stand to benefit from some of those innovations through branded app stores or exclusive device distribution.

Also on Wednesday, Ahuja said he was surprised at the political firestorm that has exploded around interference between LightSquared's network and GPS (Global Positioning System) equipment. The controversy over what caused the interference and how LightSquared received approval to use the spectrum has even led to accusations of influence-peddling by the Obama administration and conflicts of interest by federal officials.

Engineering has solved interference problems throughout the history of mobile phones and that should be the arena for finding solutions now as well, he said.

"This is my first experience where we're having to deal with interference through politics," Ahuja said.

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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