New US LTE network borne of satellite operators, launching next year

Over the next few years we're looking at major LTE build-outs in the US from at least two players -- Verizon and AT&T -- but we've rather unexpectedly gotten a third player coming into the fold today led by hedge fund Harbinger Capital Partners. Basically, these guys just got regulatory approval last week to buy satellite operator SkyTerra, combining about 23MHz of spectrum through slivers of ownership in the 1.4GHz and 1.6GHz terrestrial bands with 10MHz of L-band satellite space. This isn't the kind of network you'll just be able to waltz into a store and sign up for, though; instead, Harbinger is looking to offer it as an end-to-end wholesale service to other providers, of which AT&T and Verizon could be a part if they need the extra capacity or they're looking for a stopgap prior to completing their own build-outs. Interestingly, the terms of the SkyTerra deal specify that the big guys can only account for up to 25 percent of the new network's traffic, so there'll still be plenty of room for other players to get in when the initial commercial launch goes live (or is scheduled to go live, anyway) some time before the third quarter of 2011 covering 9 million potential subscribers. A full-scale launch in all "major" markets is lined up by the second quarter of 2013 -- and thanks to Harbinger's holdings in TerreStar, we could see even more than 23MHz worth of LTE airspace by the time everything's said and done. By comparison, Verizon holds 22MHz of 700MHz spectrum in many markets, so these guys are working with a decent-sized slice of the pie here.