LightSquared Asks Authorities to Put GPS Industry to the Test

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  March 01, 2012

This article originally appeared in the March issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY magazine.

The LightSquared (News - Alert) saga is like the Energizer bunny – it goes on, and on, and on – but, in this case, not in a good way.

As this issue was going to press in January, LightSquared was making its case to the media, among others, reiterating the message that GPS device makers are intentionally throwing a monkey wrench into its plans to launch service on a 4G wireless network. In describing the situation, Jeff Carlisle, executive vice president for regulatory affairs and public policy at LightSquared, went as far as to say GPS device makers “rigged” their test results by using out-of-date devices. He added that they did the “invalid” testing in a way that prevented any input from outside sources, and he charged that they intentionally leaked the results.

GPS device testing to which Carlisle referred was done by Air Force Space Command on behalf of the Space-based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Executive Committee, also known as PNT EXCOM.

“The devices tested focused on obsolete and niche devices which were chosen because they were the least resilient devices,” he said during a Jan. 18 conference call for press and analysts. Some of the devices tested were released in 1997 and 1998, some with no filtering whatsoever, he said. “Those modules aren’t even sold to consumers,” he added. “Those devices now represent less than 1 percent of devices.”

Carlisle went on to say that over the past 12 months LightSquared has spent countless hours and a mountain of dough communicating with federal agencies to find a workable solution to its spectrum woes, which involve the airline industry and GPS device makers sounding the alarm that a LightSquared network would create significant interference issues with their applications. LightSquared, he said, has made multiple efforts to make things work, but has not been met with the same effort by the GPS community.

 “The testing just doesn’t reflect reality, and it probably was never intended to,” Carlisle concluded.

“Tests should’ve been conducted by an independent testing laboratory, not by the GPS [device makers] themselves,” he said, adding that the process employed “can only be described as a fiasco.”

In what it views as having the potential to right these alleged wrongs, LightSquared is asking the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to “objectively re-evaluate this initial round of testing and also to evaluate mitigation proposals the company has proposed.” LightSquared also would like to see the Federal Communications Commission and the NTIA “conduct the second round of tests on high-precision devices at an independent laboratory to ensure objectivity and transparency.”

The fact that LightSquared efforts represent a $14 billion private investment that will create 15,000 jobs over 5 years and ultimately lower prices for consumers, Carlisle said, would seem to justify further investigation of these issues on the FCC’s (News - Alert) part.

LightSquared has been grappling to put to rest these interference concerns for several months now. In an interview with TMCnet last year, LightSquared Chief Marketing Officer Frank Boulben (News - Alert) said that the organizations raising these complaints primarily are device manufacturers that have had eight years to adjust their products to allow them to coexist peacefully with new technologies in the FCC-approved ATC spectrum, but instead elected a strategy of “squatting” on LightSquared’s L-band spectrum.

When the FCC approved the ATC spectrum, which is satellite spectrum repurposed for terrestrial use, everybody knew that some tweaks would have to be made to avoid interference problems between the existing satellite and new ATC technologies, Boulben indicated. GPS receivers in smartphones from Apple, RIM and Samsung (News - Alert) already contain five- to 25-cent filters to prevent such interference, he added, but not everybody in the GPS device space has been as proactive in employing such interference avoidance technologies.

Boulben noted in the mid-2011 interview that LightSquared already had expended considerable effort to test for interference and amend its initial network build out plans in light of the GPS interference concerns, which came to light in 2010. The company offered to reduce by 50 percent the theoretical power limit of its cell sites and to use the (1525-1535mHz) spectrum that it says is 99.5 percent free of interference concerns during the first phase of its build and the other spectrum in the second phase, so it has more time to find a fix for the more problematic spectrum. The initial plan was to use the spectrum, which LightSquared is getting from Inmarsat (News - Alert), in the opposite order.

Edited by Jennifer Russell