Phil Falcone hedges his mobile bet

January 11, 2011: 5:00 AM ET

Could the beleaguered financier's wireless company, LightSquared, be a 21st-century Nextel?

By Scott Woolley, contributor

LightSquared aims to use satellites like this one - and an earthbound network - to deliver calls to smartphones.

It has been a tough couple of months for billionaire Phil Falcone. His Harbinger Capital hedge funds have withered to $9 billion from $26 billion three years ago, drained by bets on bum stocks and the departure of fed-up investors. In early November the Securities and Exchange Commission began looking into improper favors Harbinger may have given some investors, as well as a $113 million personal loan issued to Falcone. Then came the kicker: The latest Harbinger-backed venture, a wireless broadband company called LightSquared, ran into a potentially fatal technical glitch.

LightSquared, based in Reston, Va., wants to use two satellites that serve as cellphone towers in space to deliver superfast Internet connections and phone service. In mid-November the company launched its first satellite -- only to have the antenna fail to unfurl, rendering the satellite useless. The antenna eventually opened, but not before giving Harbinger's remaining investors (and Falcone detractors) reason to question LightSquared's viability. More

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