LightSquared Says GPS Has to Accept Interference

Mobile startup LightSquared wants the FCC to declare that it has the right to use spectrum next to the GPS band and that navigation device makers do not.

While the petition LightSquared filed on Tuesday seeks a declaratory ruling asserting its right to use the spectrum, it also calls on the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to say that GPS (Global Positioning System) receivers don't have a right to protection from interference in its band, according to Jeff Carlisle, LightSquared's executive vice president of regulatory affairs and public policy.

LightSquared seeks to build an LTE (Long-Term Evolution) mobile data network that uses the so-called "L band" next to GPS, which today is restricted to satellite-based services. An LTE network would transmit at much higher power near to navigation devices on the ground than satellites do.

Interference between LightSquared's network and GPS is caused by GPS receivers that, in seeking satellites to lock onto and collect location data, scan many adjacent frequencies in addition to their assigned band, Carlisle said in an interview on Wednesday. That amounts to GPS vendors claiming "an incontrovertible right to use all of our spectrum," he said.

"They are asserting the right to be able to continue to build these grossly inefficient receivers forever," Carlisle said. LightSquared wants the FCC to declare that those receivers aren't entitled to protection from interference when they look at LightSquared's spectrum, he said.

Numerous test results that have shown interference actually support LightSquared's case, because they demonstrate the unauthorized behavior of the devices, Carlisle said. LightSquared has "bent over backward" to solve the interference problems with numerous modifications to its plans, all to solve a problem that it didn't cause, he said.

Nevertheless, LightSquared continues to downplay the interference. Most recently, the company said that although about 16 percent of general navigation devices in tests last month may have suffered interference according to the standards used, their performance wouldn't actually be affected by the network.

The petition isn't likely to be a quick fix for LightSquared, because there is no deadline for the FCC to complete the multistep process of gathering comments on the petition and issuing a ruling. Meanwhile, LightSquared still faces the need to raise billions of dollars amid continued regulatory uncertainty. Another round of interference tests is expected in January, and GPS backers continued to slam the company's plans on a conference call with reporters on Wednesday.

The changes to LightSquared's plans, including the proposal to leave aside its spectrum block closest to GPS for the time being, are only attempts to create a moving target that is harder for opponents to address, according to the Coalition to Save Our GPS.

"They seem to be running out of proposals here for mitigating interference," said Jim Kirkland, vice president and general counsel of Trimble, who spoke on the group's conference call.

The Coalition said LightSquared's petition was based on false claims about past FCC decisions on what the band near GPS could be used for. LightSquared has always been prohibited from interfering with GPS receivers, the Coalition said.

Whatever the outcome or timing of an FCC ruling on it, the petition may have been a move by LightSquared to prepare for a possible lawsuit if it does not receive clearance to build its network, analyst Tim Farrar of TMF Associates said on Tuesday.

LightSquared has said it intends to launch its network commercially next year. Its total capital and operating expenses for the network will be about US$14 billion over eight years, Carlisle said. On top of the approximately $4 billion it has already raised, the company will need another $3 billion to $4 billion before its business becomes self-sustaining, he said on Wednesday.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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