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LightSquared Submits GPS Report On Interference Issues

July 1, 2011

A dispute between telecom start-up LightSquared and makers of GPS equipment intensified on Thursday, with each side blaming the other for interference issues between LightSquared’s proposed nationwide wireless broadband network and GPS systems used for aviation, navigation, construction and agriculture.

LightSquared, backed by private investment firm Harbinger Capital, filed a report with the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday detailing the results of GPS interference tests conducted by LightSquared and GPS device makers.

The company acknowledged that the tests revealed interference between its high-speed broadband network and GPS devices, but said the device makers should fix the problem.

But GPS makers dismissed the plan, saying it was presented too late to be included in the test report.

LightSquared had said last week that it would use a different block of airwaves than it had originally planned, which would eliminate 99.5 percent of the interference problems found in tests.

However, in a briefing with reporters, executives for GPS companies such as Trimble Navigation and Garmin Ltd, along with representatives from the aviation industry, were adamant that LightSquared’s plan would not work.

The executives complained that LightSquared had devised an entirely new plan after the industry had already worked with the company for “tens of thousands of hours” on tests related only to its original plan — which the GPS firms had also contested.

“It raises serious issues as to LightSquared’s credibility and its technical acumen,” Reuters quoted Jim Kirkland, Trimble’s general counsel, as saying in reference to LightSquared’s proposal made last Monday to use alternate airwaves.

Kirkland also serves as spokesman for the Save Our GPS Coalition, a group created to fight LightSquared’s planned network from proceeding.

Overcoming LightSquared’s interference problems would require billions of dollars in additional funding, on top of the $3.1 billion Harbinger has already invested in the company to construct its nationwide network.

The FCC said it would review LightSquared’s report, but did not commit to a date for a formal response.  Interested parties have until July 30 to submit official comments to Thursday’s report to the FCC.  Responses to those comments are due by August 15.

Under its revised proposal, LightSquared said that only 200,000 GPS devices out of 300 million would risk interference with its network.

However, the GPS group rejected the proposal, saying they could not see how LightSquared arrived at the 99.5 percent statistic in the absence of industry-wide tests.

LightSquared said on Thursday that the interference issues were a result of GPS manufacturers’ design of products “that depend on using spectrum assigned to other FCC licenses.”

But the GPS groups argue that their equipment is designed in line with regulations.

LightSquared pledged on Thursday that it would not launch its service unless the FCC and other government agencies are satisfied that the interference problems have been resolved.

“LightSquared is fully committed to finding a solution,” the company said in a press release on Thursday.

“It is unthinkable that a nation which recently completed a complex digital-television transition involving nearly every household in the U.S. will be stymied by a problem posed by approximately 200,000 GPS devices.”

The company stressed that it cannot solve the problem on its own, and needs the cooperation of the GPS industry.

“LightSquared believes cooperation is the least to expect from an industry that built a business by piggy-backing on the federal government’s GPS network without any investment in infrastructure or spectrum.”

The company cited a recent Brattle Group study that showed the commercial GPS industry’s ability to use the U.S. government’s GPS network amounted to an $18 billion federal subsidy.

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