UPDATE 2-CTIA-LightSquared signs Best Buy deal, promises others

Wed Mar 23, 2011 6:36pm EDT

* LightSquared says wins wireless deal with Best Buy

* To spend $14 bln over 8 years on network, operations

* Also in talks with a major consumer electronics maker

* Not yet given up on T-Mobile deal (Adds executive comments, byline)

By Sinead Carew

ORLANDO, Fla., March 23 (Reuters) - Wireless broadband network company LightSquared has won a deal to help Best Buy Co Inc <BBY.N start its own wireless service, which could help make up for possibly missing out on sales to T-Mobile USA.

The deals follows a similar agreement with Leap Wireless announced earlier in the week and shows the Harbinger Capital-backed company starting to score deals that could help pay for its multibillion dollar investment in a high-speed wireless network.

Chief Executive Sanjiv Ahuja said in an interview on Wednesday that there will be more to come.

"You'll see a wide variety of customers being announced," Ahuja said on the sidelines of the CTIA wireless show where he was a keynote speaker.

Ahuja said the company will need $14 billion over the next 8 years to build its high-speed network. He did not say where that money would come from besides revenue from customers.

The business model for LightSquared, formed by high-profile hedge fund manager Philip Falcone, is centered around selling wholesale wireless services to companies such as Best Buy, which then offer mobile services under their own brand.

The Best Buy announcement came days after T-Mobile USA, one of LightSquared's biggest potential customers, chose to be bought by AT&T Inc (T.N) instead of looking to LightSquared to expand its access to wireless airwaves.

LightSquared executives said they had not given up on signing up T-Mobile USA as a customer even though the carriers have said the main reason for the merger was access to more airwaves.

"If they needed spectrum before, they'll still need it after (the deal)," said Ahuja. "They're potential customers afterwards."

AT&T, however, would be restricted to no more than 25 percent of LightSquared spectrum because of U.S. government regulations.

Chief Marketing officer Frank Boulben said LightSquared has already signed a deal with a maker of tablet computers and smartphones that could start using LightSquared's network as soon as the fourth quarter. He said the customer did not want to be named for competitive reasons.

LightSquared is also in "advanced talks" with one of the top three global consumer electronics companies about providing connections for services such as wireless photo uploads and wireless multiplayer gaming, Boulben said.

"We're in negotiations for 15 contracts," he said.

Ahuja said LightSquared and Best Buy would start a trial of the retailers wireless service in early 2012.

Best Buy already has a deal to buy wireless services from No. 3 U.S. mobile service Sprint Nextel Corp (S.N) and Clearwire Corp CLWR.O in which Sprint has a 54 percent stake.

Ahuja said Best Buy could offer services from different networks on different devices or it could combine the technologies on some devices.

Several analysts had hoped Ahuja would announce a network agreement with Sprint at the CTIA. It could share Sprint's wireless towers and possibly its network equipment with a view to cutting costs, they said.

Such a deal could be completed as soon as late March, according to a source familiar with the talks between Sprint and LightSquared. Ahuja declined to acknowledge or comment on the talks.

The executive said during his keynote speech that there is room for a company such as LightSquared, even in the fiercely competitive U.S. mobile market, because it takes a new approach and will not compete with its service provider clients.

"It opens up the wireless industry to new entrants who could never before offer wireless service," Ahuja said referring to Best Buy as an example. (Reporting by Sinead Carew and Barbara Liston; editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Derek Caney and Andre Grenon)

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