Oxymoron: 3GPP approves (?) Ligado’s L-Band Spectrum for 5G Private Networks


Ligado Networks today announced it received approvals from Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) for new technical specifications that will enable its L-band spectrum [1.] to be deployed in 5G networks.

Note 1. L band is the IEEE designation for the range of frequencies in the radio spectrum from 1 to 2 gigahertz (GHz).  The Global Positioning System carriers are in the L band, centered at 1176.45 MHz (L5), 1227.60 MHz (L2), 1381.05 MHz (L3), and 1575.42 MHz (L1) frequencies. L band waves are used for GPS units because they are able to penetrate clouds, fog, rain, storms, and vegetation.

Since World War II, radar systems engineers have used letter designations as a short notation for describing the frequency band of operation. This usage has continued throughout the years and is now an accepted practice of radar engineers.


Why is 3GPP “approval” of L-Band an oxymoron?  Because 3GPP specifications have no legal standing and must be transposed by SDOs (like ETSI and ITU-R) before they become de jure standards.  The best example of that were the 3GPP RIT/SRIT submissions to ITU-R WP5D which became the main part of ITU-R M.2150 (previously referred to as IMT 2020 Radio Access Network).

From the 3GPP website under the heading Official Publications:

The 3GPP Technical Specifications and Technical Reports have, in themselves, no legal standing. They only become “official” when transposed into corresponding publications of the Partner Organizations (or the national / regional standards body acting as publisher for the Partner). At this point, the specifications are referred to as UMTS within ETSI and FOMA within ARIB/TTC.

Some TRs (mainly those with numbers of the form xx.8xx) are not intended for publication, but are retained as internal working documents of 3GPP. Once a Release is frozen (see definition in 3GPP TR 21.900), its specifications are published by the Partners.


How Frequencies get standardized for International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT):

IMT frequencies for 3G, 4G, 5G are agreed upon once every four years at the ITU-R WRC.  The last one was WRC 19 in Egypt in October 2019.  After that, they are sent to ITU-R WP5D for detailed IMT terrestrial frequency arrangements, which are then included in a revision of ITU-R M.1036 – Frequency Arrangements for Terrestrial IMT.  Once that M.1036 revision is approved, it is rubber stamped by ITU-R SG5 which meets once per year in November.

As of the close of last week’s WP5D meeting, there was no consensus on approving the WRC 19 specified mmW frequencies to be used with IMT 2150.   Hence, the revision of M.1036 to include 5G frequencies has not been approved yet.  One WP 5D meeting left to get that done this year prior to SG 5 meeting this November.

Ligado or the ITU-R 3GPP representative (currently ATIS) would have to submit their L-Band frequencies to WP 5D before their October 2021 meeting to get it approved as a frequency band to be used for M.2150 (the official one and only 5G RAN standard).

The closest M.1036 frequencies in the L band are 1.427-1.518 GHz and 1.710-2.200 GHz.  Both bands use paired FDD arrangements to separate transmit and receive channels.


Ligado wants to expand the L-Band vendor ecosystem and deploy new mid-band spectrum in 5G networks in the U.S. Ligado is currently developing a 5G Mobile Private Network Solution designed to bring the power of next-generation networks to the energy, manufacturing, health care, transportation, and other critical infrastructure sectors.

“This is a major milestone for us – in an already momentous year – and advances our vision to deploy this spectrum for a range of next-generation services,” said Ligado CEO Doug Smith. “The 3GPP green light gives us what we need to accelerate our commercial ecosystem activities and expand Ligado’s roster of partners to deploy this much-needed spectrum for U.S. businesses and consumers.”

3GPP approvals (?) of Band 24 (1.5 GHz and 1.6 GHz) may encourage vendors to build PRE-STANDARD 5G and LTE products compatible with Ligado’s mid-band spectrum. Ligado has already entered into commercial agreements with multiple 5G base station and chipset vendors. The company has also announced a collaboration with pioneering network operator Rakuten Mobile to showcase its 5G Mobile Private Network Solution, and the companies plan to deploy lab and field trials over the next 12 months.

The items that were approved at this week’s 3GPP plenary meeting include updates to Ligado’s existing LTE Band 24 (1.5 GHz and 1.6 GHz); a new 5G NR Band labeled n24; a new 5G NR Supplemental Uplink (SUL) Band labeled n99; and NR Carrier Aggregation (CA) and SUL band combinations for n24 and n99 with CBRS, C-Band and EBS/BRS spectrum. The approvals of SUL band n99 and band combinations will help facilitate the deployments of L-Band spectrum with other mid-band airwaves like the C-Band, CBRS, and EBS spectrum bands.

“Receiving these 3GPP approvals is a huge springboard to deploy the L-Band in U.S. 5G networks, and we’re excited to have continued support from several industry-leading vendors,” said Chief Technology Officer Maqbool Aliani. “Bringing this additional mid-band spectrum to the 5G market will help the U.S. roll out next-generation deployments more quickly, at lower costs, and with superior network performance.”

Ligado submitted these work items to 3GPP in June 2020 after winning unanimous, bipartisan approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to modify its existing spectrum license. In October 2020, the company announced it had successfully raised nearly $4 billion to develop and deploy the L-Band in 5G networks.

For years, it’s been rumored that Ligado wanted to sell its spectrum to the highest bidder, probably a wireless carrier desiring mid-band 5G spectrum. While that hasn’t happened, some still see it as a valuable resource for the Verizon or AT&T.  If T-Mobile or Dish acquired the L-band, they would extend their advantage even further, according to New Street Research analyst Jonathan Chaplin in a September 2020 report.

“The final major step for Ligado will involve getting chipset and radio vendors to incorporate the L-Band into their designs, paving the way for a carrier to deploy the L-Band on towers and small cells and to sell devices that contain L-Band-supporting chipsets,” Chaplin wrote in a report for investors today. “This final leg of the process is likely to take some time, but could be accelerated by the support of a large industry player (one of the carriers), who can more easily encourage their vendors to integrate the spectrum into their equipment.”

Also, several analysts believe that the demand for private wireless networking equipment could eventually double the market for public wireless networks.

About Ligado Networks:

Building on 25 years of experience providing crucial satellite connectivity, Ligado’s mission is to modernize American businesses by delivering the 5G connectivity solutions needed to transform their operations and realize the efficiencies of a digital world. Our plans to deploy licensed mid-band spectrum in public and private 5G networks will help pave the way for future innovations and economic growth across America.

For further information:

Ligado Networks Media Contact:
Ashley Durmer, Chief Communications Officer and Head of Congressional Affairs
Tel: 703-390-2008
[email protected]





Busting a Myth: 3GPP Roadmap to true 5G (IMT 2020) vs AT&T “standards-based 5G” in Austin, TX

7 thoughts on “Oxymoron: 3GPP approves (?) Ligado’s L-Band Spectrum for 5G Private Networks

  1. FCC Approved Ligados use of L-Band in April 2020

    Today, the Federal Communications Commission announced that it has approved with conditions Ligado’s application to deploy a low-power terrestrial nationwide network in the L-Band that will primarily support 5G and Internet of Things services. The order approving Ligado’s application was adopted without dissent and will promote more efficient and effective use of our nation’s spectrum resources and ensure that adjacent band operations, including the Global Positioning System (GPS), are protected from harmful interference. “I thank my colleagues for coming together on a bipartisan basis to support Ligado’s application,” said Chairman Pai.

    “The vote at the Commission reflects the broad, bipartisan support that this order has received, from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Attorney General William Barr on the one hand to Senator Mark Warner of Virginia and Congresswoman Doris Matsui of California on the other. This vote is another step forward for American leadership in 5G and advanced wireless services.”

    In the order approving Ligado’s application, the Commission included stringent conditions to ensure that incumbents would not experience harmful interference.

    For example, the Commission mandated that Ligado provide a significant (23 megahertz) guard-band using its own licensed spectrum to separate its terrestrial base station transmissions from neighboring operations in the Radionavigation-Satellite Service allocation.

    Moreover, Ligado is required to limit the power levels of its base stations to 9.8 dBW, a reduction of 99.3% from the power levels proposed in Ligado’s 2015 application. The order also requires Ligado to protect adjacent band incumbents by reporting its base station locations and technical operating parameters to potentially affected government and industry stakeholders prior to commencing operations, continuously monitoring the transmit power of its base station sites, and complying with procedures and actions for responding to credible reports of interference, including rapid shutdown of operations where warranted.

    The Commission’s announcement came on Monday after Chairman Ajit Pai circulated a draft order last week to approve Ligado’s proposal.

    Various stakeholders including the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), the GPS Innovation Alliance (GPSIA), and Iridium opposed the FCC’s draft order because such a network could negatively interfere with Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers, but the FCC said that conditions to its approval will ensure those operations are protected from interference. After the draft order was circulated, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers and Pentagon officials came out against the proposal, as Defense Daily reported.

    The FCC said specifically that Ligado’s downlink operations will be at a power level 99% reduced from what the company proposed in 2015. In addition, Ligado is required to protect adjacent band incumbents by reporting its base station locations and technical operating parameters to potentially affected government and industry stakeholders, monitor the transmit power of its base station sites, and respond to credible reports of interference.

    Ligado President and CEO Doug Smith thanked the FCC for “promptly” approving the order.

    “We greatly appreciate their unanimous support as well as the expert engineering analysis determining that a terrestrial network can be deployed in the L-band to advance our country’s economic and security interests while fully protecting GPS. Our spectrum can be very instrumental in the transition to 5G, and we look forward to utilizing satellite and terrestrial services to deploy customized private networks and deliver innovative, next-generation IoT solutions for the industrial sector,” Smith said in a statement.

    GPSIA Executive Director J. David Grossman said in a Monday statement that the organization is “deeply disappointed” by the FCC’s decision and will be reviewing the restrictions on Ligado to prevent interference.




  2. 3GPP Release 16 was frozen June 2020, but URLLC in the RAN spec has still not been completed nor has there been a firm schedule for independent performance testing. As a result, ITU-R M.2150 (previously known as IMT 2020.specs and based mostly on 3GPP Release 15) does not meet the URLLC (in the RAN) performance requirements of ITU-R M.2410 Minimum requirements related to technical performance of IMT 2020.

  3. Wаy cool! Some extremely valid ρoints, especially that 3GPP has no jurisdiction over frequencies used for IMT (2G, 3G, 4G, 5G)!
    Sincerely appreciate this incisive post.
    The rest of the IEEE Techblog website is alѕo very ցood.

  4. Email from Joanne Wilson, Deputy to the Director ITU Radio Communications Bureau (ITU-R):

    ITU-R Recommendations are voluntary (non-binding) unless they, or parts thereof, have been incorporated by reference (IBR) into the Radio Regulations. Rec ITU-R M.1036 has not been incorporated by reference into the Radio Regulations and its implementation is voluntary. As a recommendation that addresses the frequency arrangement for an application (not a service!), there would be no context under which M.1036 would be considered for IBR. Still, M.1036 is one of the most heavily debated recommendations because most countries follow it as the basis for their subsequent domestic rulemakings.

    1. Sadly, the FCC pays little or no attention to M.1036 as they’ve licensed or plan to license many frequencies (e.g. 12 GHz) for 5G that are not specified in M.1036.

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