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Death of the Deal: Sprint and LightSquared

Dan Radovsky
March 7, 2012

Et tu, FCC?

The promise of a unique network sharing approach between Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S  ) and LightSquared will be coming to an end next week, according to two sources cited by Bloomberg.

Last June Sprint and LightSquared shook hands on an 15-year agreement to divvy up the costs of building a 4G LTE network. The deal was worth $9 billion to Sprint as the builder and operator of the network, and could have ended up saving LightSquared around $13 billion. LightSquared's job was to supply the wireless spectrum, but it ended up being LightSquared' s spectrum that caused the deal's demise.

LightSquared's spectrum is in a frequency range used by communications satellites. Unfortunately, those frequencies are very close to those used by the Global Positioning System. When the LightSquared frequencies are transmitted via satellite, by the time they reach earth they have been weakened enough not to interfere with GPS frequencies. However, those signals are much stronger in a terrestrial cellular network -- strong enough to interfere with GPS devices.

At least that is what the Federal Communications Commission has concluded, and last month it decided not to allow LightSquared to go forward with its plans. Unfortunately, the Sprint-LightSquared collaboration was dependent on the LightSquared frequencies getting FCC approval. The original deadline for that approval was New Year's, but the stakes are so high for both companies that Sprint extended it to March 15.

Since the FCC decision, LightSquared has cut almost half of its workforce and its CEO has resigned. The company has also failed to make a $56 million payment to satellite operator Inmarsat, its partner.

LightSquared's trials with the FCC also had an impact on DISH Network (Nasdaq: DISH