LightSquared Defends Itself Against Report That Claims GPS Interference

The U.S. government dealt a blow Wednesday to LightSquared’s hopes of building a national LTE network, concluding that the proposed network interfered with GPS devices in “a majority” of cases. But LightSquared countered that it’s actually the GPS devices that are treading on its spectrum, not the other way around.

LightSquared is trying something novel in the wireless industry: it wants to build a network for other service providers to use that is a combination of traditional cellular and satellite technology. That combination, however, has been shown to cause interference with satellite-based GPS devices, and an official study into the matter by several government agencies may make it harder for the company to get the go-ahead to build its network.

“Preliminary analysis of the test findings found no significant interference with cellular phones,” said the National Executive Committee for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing in a statement. “However, the testing did show that LightSquared signals caused harmful interference to the majority of other tested general purpose GPS receivers. Separate analysis by the Federal Aviation Administration also found interference with a flight safety system designed to warn pilots of approaching terrain.”

That’s not likely to impress the FCC when it comes time to rule on LightSquared’s proposal. But while it acknowledged the issues with aviation systems, LightSquared pushed back on the GPS interference claims.

“The testing further confirmed that the interference issues are not caused by LightSquared’s spectrum, but by GPS devices looking into spectrum that is licensed to LightSquared. We have taken extraordinary measures – and at extraordinary expense – to solve a problem that is not of our making,” CEO Sanjiv Ahuja said in a statement.

Why is this important? LightSquared says its LTE network could allow wireless service providers to offer fast connections for much cheaper than current providers, and it is backed by billions in investment betting it can do just that. However, if the network never gets off the ground because its wireless spectrum sits too close for comfort to the spectrum used by GPS systems, it will have little to show for its efforts.