LightSquared: GPS interference is device-makers' fault

Wholesale 4G satellite broadband company LightSquared, whose proposed network came under fire after tests showed it interfered with Global Positioning System signals, is back on the offensive, asking the Federal Communications Commission to confirm its right to use the spectrum licensed to company by the agency.

In addition, LightSquared, in its petition for a declaratory ruling, wants the FCC to confirm that GPS device-makers have no right to interference protections since they are not licensed users of that spectrum.

“The one inescapable conclusion from two rounds of independent testing is that the incompatibility problem is not caused by LightSquared’s network,” Jeff Carlisle, LightSquared’s executive vice president for regulatory affairs and public policy, said a press statement from the company.

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“Commercial GPS device-makers have had nearly a decade to design and sell devices that do not infringe on LightSquared’s licensed spectrum,” Carlisle said. “They have no right to complain in the eleventh-hour about incompatibility when they had ample opportunity to avoid this problem," he added.

Carlisle said company has “had FCC authorization to build its network for over eight years and that authorization was endorsed by the GPS industry, and fully reviewed and allowed to proceed by several other government agencies.”

GPS applications often use radio channels not originally intended for GPS. They also underlie critical activities, including weather forecasting and air traffic control.

On Dec. 14, the Transportation and Defense departments jointly issued a release stating that testing showed that LightSquared signals “caused harmful interference to the majority of other tested general purpose GPS receivers.” The Federal Aviation Administration also found interference with a flight safety system designed to warn pilots of approaching terrain.

Congress, as part of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act passed last week, is barring the FCC from approving LightSquared's network for commercial use until the DOD's interference concerns are resolved.

Without resolution, LightSquared could go under. According to a review of the company’s financial statement by Reuters, the company is in danger of running out of money by the second quarter of 2012. LightSquared registered a $427 million net loss during the first nine months of this year.

LightSquared has invested billions of dollars in its proposed network and plans to invest billions more. Its business model is based on selling a wholesale 4G network to be built by Sprint. In July, LightSquared announced a 15-year contract with Sprint whereby LightSquared would pay the mobile phone company, which is having money problems of its own, $9 billion for the job.

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.

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Reader Comments

Thu, Jan 5, 2012 jafo

@Zelda Thanks for posting the link. That helped me to understand your viewpoint. I think I was partly misinterpreting what you wrote. For the benefit of everyone, I hope some authoritative ruling and/or technical solution will bring resolution to this issue in the near future. The longer this issue persists the more costly it will be everyone.

Wed, Jan 4, 2012 Zelda

To Jafo: To answer your question, please look at following blog This summarizes the situation pretty clearly: The ATC permit was given to MSV, a satellite company, 9 years ago, to supplement a satellite system, not to implement a full size terrestrial mobile broadband network.

Tue, Jan 3, 2012 jafo

@ Jim and Zelda: Is there something in the document I cited that I'm missing or something in another document that I'm missing that supports your viewpoints? If I read the entire document I cited at face value, and particularly paragraphs 13 and 23 - 28, it seems to me that it contradicts your assertions. Again, this is not my field of expertise and my knowledge of the subject and supporting documentation is very limited. So if you can point me toward documentation that supports your viewpoints I would sincerely appreciate it.

Tue, Jan 3, 2012 Jim

I believe that David makes the most important point. The frequency spectrum used for GPS is meant for satellite use. Any land based high powered transmission in the close vicinity of the GPS frequencies will easily over power the weak signal from the GPS satellites. Lightsquared is taking advantage of their original license by using the space frequencies on the earth’s surface.

Tue, Jan 3, 2012 Zelda Alexandria

To Jafo: Yes, the radio issues are critical here, and this is not the first time that this kind of screw-up has happened, especially in the last 20 years, after spectrum in the lower bands (below 3 GHz) became so valuable. There have been precedents of huge gifts or opportunistic hand-outs in the cellular business, e.g. Sprint spectrum refarming, or Omnipoint (a predecessor to T-Mobile USA) grant of PCS spectrum. This one however takes the cake. When the grant of ATC was given to the satellite companies that Harbinger Capital bought, there was no GPS in mobile phones, no broadband mobile, and nobody had any idea about LTE. So, basically, there were no EMC analyses, since no one knew what kind of system would be established as the ATC components of the satellite systems. But GPS existed, there were GPS receiver manufacturers, who were confident that no one would mess with them, since this was a technology very much in the public interest (ie the prime mandate of the FCC), as well as national security. Now LightSquared has suddenly identified the public interest for mobile broadband everywhere as overriding everything else. They are mistaken on three counts: - National Security and Public Safety - Straightforward radio engineering - FCC rules and precedents in adjudication of these kind of problems. I would bet there will be no declaratory ruling, and LS might limp along for a while (their 10 MHz is not enough to make a good network) but there will be no big windfall.

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