Mobile

To avoid defaulting on its massive debt, LightSquared’s Falcone is stepping aside

About the only thing troubled wireless-network startup LightSquared is buying these days is time, which is useful since the company is about to defaulting on millions in debt. To do this, founder and public face of LightSquared Philip Falcone has agreed to tone down his profile with the company.

The move should temporarily help keep the company from filing for voluntary bankruptcy and defaulting on its massive debts, according to a Wall Street Journal report that cites people familiar with the debt negotiations. LightSquared’s board is apparently trying to get a much longer extension of 18 months to two years before lenders come back to collect on that debt.

LightSquared’s business strategy involved building out a high-speed wireless network that would generate revenue by selling network access to outside companies, such as Walmart, Best Buy, and others. However, the company has run into several problems.

In February, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rejected LightSquared’s plans to launch its LTE network due to concerns that it would interfere with both commercial and military GPS technology. Because of this development, Leap Wireless has decided to buy future LTE connectivity for its Cricket prepaid service from Clearwire, another troubled wireless company (of which Sprint is the largest stakeholder). Earlier this year, LightSquared client FreedomPop also decided to go with Clearwire. But by far the biggest setback for LightSquared came in March after its $9 billion 15-year agreement with Sprint-Nextel to build and host its LTE network fell through.

Falcone, who’s Harbinger Capital Partners is majority owner of the wireless startup, has previously said bankruptcy could help salvage LightSquared by providing more time to deal with its many problems.

If LightSquared is able to forge a deal with lenders, it could make it more difficult for the company to file bankruptcy under chapter 11 protections (which allows a company to operate as usual without interference from debtors). The lenders may then restructure the debt amount based on LightSquared giving up more equity. According to the WSJ’s sources, that deal could also make Falcone personally accountable for the $1.6 billion in debt should the company file for bankruptcy at a later date.

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