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Summary:

PNT ExComm, the federal agency overseeing the national GPS satellite network, has concluded that any LTE network LightSquared would build, no matter how much it scales back its transmission power, would interfere with GPS devices nationwide. LightSquared’s hopes of building its network are quickly dwindling.

LightSquared

A federal agency may have just sounded the death knell for LightSquared’s plans to build a nationwide LTE network. The National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing Executive Committee, otherwise known as PNT ExComm, has concluded that any LTE network LightSquared would build, no matter how much it scales back its transmission power, would interfere with GPS devices nationwide, IDG news reported.

Ultimately, the Federal Communications Commission has the final say on whether LightSquared can go forward, but with the full weight of the government organization overseeing GPS against the would-be operator, the chances that the FCC will green-light its launch are now slim to none. According to IDG, the nine federal agencies that make up ExComm came to a unanimous decision after it found that LightSquared’s network would cause interference on 75 percent of the general navigation GPS devices tested:

Based upon this testing and analysis, there appear to be no practical solutions or mitigations that would permit the LightSquared broadband service, as proposed, to operate in the next few months or years without significantly interfering with GPS. As a result, no additional testing is warranted at this time.

LightSquared immediately shot back with a letter (PDF) accusing PNT ExComm’s advisory board of extreme bias and even singled out the board’s representative from NASA, Bradford Parkinson, since he also sits on the board of Trimble Navigation, a GPS device maker. In the letter, LightSquared asked that the National Telecommunications and Information Agency — which originally asked ExComm to conduct the study — to take over the testing process:

This is yet another example of the structural bias that exists within [the ExComm advisory board] which is doing harm to LightSquared, its employees, customers and suppliers. As a result of this deeply flawed process, [the board] is prepared to recommend to PNT EXCOMM that it should block a new, competitive, and innovative broadband network that Sprint, Best Buy, Leap Wireless and almost 30 other companies have partnered with for the benefit of consumers and the economy in order to benefit a handful of discontinued, non-consumer, or niche devices, none of which were intended to be used, and will not be used, near LightSquared’s planned base stations.

LightSquared is running out of options, money and time. Even if it were to convince the FCC and NTIA to conduct new tests taking into account its latest concessions to build a lower-power and further-scaled-back network, it would still take months to structure and perform those tests. Meanwhile, LightSquared is hemorrhaging cash and flirting with bankruptcy. Its network construction plans with Sprint are on hold, and Sprint could call off its network hosting deal entirely at the end of the month, which would force LightSquared to shoulder the enormous cost of building its own network.

  1. This is getting ridiculous- LS needs to just bust out the lawyers and sue the FCC.. It’s really ridiculous that they were sold spectrum and are now being told they can’t use what they paid for. If there really is a huge GPS / interference problem, then either the FCC needs to tell everyone else to get off the spectrum, or they need to pay up and give LS a full refund or another block of spectrum they can use.

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    1. Hi Seth,

      I see why you would say that but I think you may not have all of the information. LS doesn’t own spectrum it can do whatever it wants with in the sense you are I own property. It bought a license from the FCC to use the 1.6 GHz frequencies for satellite use. The terms of their license states it has to be used for that purpose only, just like a TV broadcaster can’t suddenly start using its airwaves for Wi-Fi.

      LS asked the government for a series of waivers that would allow it to change its license terms, in other words deploy a terrestrial LTE network. The FCC granted those waivers but only on the condition that the network deployed would not interfere with GPS, but interference looks exactly to be the case.

      So LS didn’t really pay for a mobile broadband license. In fact it skirted the multi-billion cost of such of license since satellite-use licenses have only a fraction of the value of terrestrial network ones. Philip Falcone took a big gamble, which could have paid off huge if he won, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.

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      1. LS DOES own the frequencies in question. They just happen to be adjacent to the L1 GPS frequency. Since nothing has been adjacent to that band for some time, GPS makers have been getting away with using badly designed filters which accept a much large window than they should. The cost to redesign the filters is cheap, but it also means obsolescence for most GPS in the hands of consumers today.

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      2. Hi Donald,

        I would disagree. The public, you and I, own those frequencies. LightSquared owns a license to use those frequencies. I think that’s a critical difference, since it implies that LS doesn’t have carte blanche to use them anyway it sees fit.

        That said, you’re definitely right about the issue of receiver design. GPS device makers built their receivers under the assumption that no high-powered signals would ever be in that band (which was not an unreasonable assumption at the time). They, however, continued to design their receivers that way even after they learned that the use of the L-band would change. They claim that they had no idea, but the military and the cellular industry changed up their design.

        So back Seth’s point, maybe LS does have a lawsuit on its hands — against Trimble, John Deere and the rest of the commercial GPS industry. Not sure it would succeed, but there’s definitely a case.

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  2. Poor LS, They should read there licenses better next time… it says “terrestrial service in the L-Band spectrum”… It’s time for LS to fold.

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  3. Robert Cathey Friday, January 13, 2012

    The ol’ Potomac two-step…

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  4. Lightsquared like any other company has the right to go bankrupt for making a bad investment and engineering mistake. Yes, the gps may actually bleed into lightsquared’s bandwidth. The FCC just simply needs to rescind lightsquared’s license. Mistake made by trying to use too narrow a bandwidth spacing. Learn from it and go on, it is not the first time a governmental error has cost people money! Won’t be the last. Yes, I live in an area that would have benefitted greatly by lightsquaed’s technology. I also have wireless microphones that are not o be used due to the governments bandwidth changes. If Lightsquared has a right to make money on their investment, then I have a right to have the government pay me original retail and take this microphone system off my hands.

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    1. Hi Bob,

      You mean rescind LightSquared’s terrestrial network waiver? Yep, I’m sure that’s exactly what the FCC will do, though LS will be able to keep its satellite spectrum. I’m sure the GPS industry would like LS to continue operator that satellite network as well since high-precision receivers actually use its satellites for within-the-meter location. Oh the irony… :)

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