Ligado picks Sony Semi to make 5G mobile satellite IoT chips
Ligado Networks announced Wednesday a new partnership with Sony Semiconductor Israel to develop chipsets for Ligado’s 5G mobile satellite network. The companies said the work will be done in several phases, with initial technology trials expected by the end of the year. Sony Semiconductor Israel, formerly Altair Semiconductor, specializes in cellular IoT and AI-based image sensing chipsets.
Ligado called the news a milestone towards development of satellite-based 5G IoT connectivity services across North America. The company is promising standards-based LTE-M and Narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT) operating via satellite. In June of 2021, the company’s spectrum was included in 3GPP specs for 5G operations. Specifically, its Band 255 for Non-Terrestrial Networks (NTNs).
“Ligado plans to deploy a 5G satellite IoT network to support mainstream devices using low-cost chipsets for both satellite and terrestrial connectivity. The satellite offering adds extended coverage and network redundancy to the company’s planned 5G mobile private network solution, enabling always-on connectivity and coverage across an enterprise’s entire footprint,” said the company in a statement.
The news marks the latest chapter in Ligado’s ongoing L-band saga. In its previous incarnation as LightSquared (before that, SkyTerra, or Mobile Satellite Ventures) the company promised a nationwide satellite-based LTE network, petitioning the FCC for a license to operate starting in 2015. LightSquared faced fierce regulatory headwinds over its L-Band spectrum use — opponents claimed the spectrum use would cause problems with some Global Positioning System (GPS) services.
The FCC finally granted the company, now Ligado, that mobile satellite service (MSS) operating license in 2020, although it would drag into 2021 before the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) — the U.S. government branch tasked with telecommunications policy — would exhaust its efforts to stay the FCC order.
While Ligado toiled away in federal courts, the company has worked out strategic arrangements to develop what it needs to finally get its non-terrestrial network (NTN) off the ground. Early on, in 2018 Ligado struck a deal with Ericsson and Sequans as technical partners on the project. Ligado also works with Mavenir to develop Open RAN-compliant base stations for its network. The companies made key announcements in 2021 around the development of the technology and plan to trial it this year.
Last year, Ligado picked Rakuten Mobile to power its 5G mobile private network. Ligado is building its private 5G network on Rakuten Communications Platform (RCP). The companies said they would collaborate with enterprise customers on advanced use cases and the final technology stack for 5G mobile private network launches.
Ligado and Nokia announced plans in January to combine Nokia’s Digital Automation Cloud (DAC) enterprise private wireless networks solution with Ligado’s L-Band nationwide licensed spectrum for deployment in the U.S. market. Ligado’s spectrum holdings are at 1.6 GHz. Nokia’s DAC is an application platform that provides both private wireless capabilities and edge compute; it can make use of both unlicensed and licensed spectrum. Nokia’s 4G and 5G base stations can utilize Ligado’s Band 24 spectrum, the equipment vendor noted.