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Dish sneaks to home base on TerreStar bankrupt spectrum

It was more with a whimper than a bang, that Dish Network found that its stalking horse bid for TerreStar network won out, after a scheduled court run

By PETER WHITE

Published: 7 July, 2011

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It was more with a whimper than a bang, that Dish Network found that its stalking horse bid for TerreStar network won out, after a scheduled court run auction failed to materialize, because there were no other bids. Dish Network must now overcome a few last hurdles – complaints to the court by Space Systems/Loral who built the TerreStar satellites and from AT&T which has sold existing satellite phone service – both have either lost money or stand to lose money if the deal goes ahead.

We see no reason for this deal not going through, since it has already cleared court approval once to become the stalking horse bid.

We’re not quite sure of strict court procedure but we imagine that if the three sat down and discussed plans, these are relatively minor issues that can be talked through. The complaints to the court are more as a form of place-holder, so that discussions with the new owner can continue, and aren’t presented as a fait accompli with the courts blessing.

We would think that Dish Network will want to use the Space Systems/Loral satellite and will need continued support and an ongoing relationship and is well used to handling such relationships, while the deal with AT&T can be solved by continued satellite phone service. The existing plan allows for only part payment of $43 million outstanding to Space Systems/Loral, while AT&T just wants to be sure that customers seeking refunds for closed service don’t fall back on AT&T.

The issue here isn’t about what this spectrum can do when coming from a satellite, as MSS spectrum in the S-Band was originally designed for, but what it can do when using an Ancillary Terrestrial Component and being broadcast from terrestrial base stations. Sure satellite capacity will likely be kept to do what Dish Network does best, broadcast some kind of TV signal, but ATC is likely to end up being used for cellular communication and we have often anticipated it being used for LTE, possibly by LightSquared, when it is over a barrel (which it already appears to be after the GPS dispute) and in return it will cut generous terms for Dish to offer broadband and a triple play.

The key to all of this is to have radio beams that are largely directional. That way those coming from a satellite do not interfere with those coming from the ground, because antennas can be adjusted automatically to amplify either signal. This had to be proved, patented and licensed before this industry could take off and it has been largely ready to do that since 2009 with a new generation of satellites taking to the skies which can “hear” radio signals from low battery powered cellphones 21,000 miles above the earth, without it having to burn out its battery on amplification efforts.

The ATC or Ancillary Terrestrial Component can be thought of as a separate network, which because it is in the same spectrum, can be picked up by the same devices – and such a network will always fall back to the terrestrial network where it is present.

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