LightSquared Asks FCC to Regulate GPS Receivers

LightSquared wants the U.S. FCC to set standards for commercial GPS devices to prevent what LightSquared calls interference with other wireless services.

In its latest salvo against the GPS industry, the would-be hybrid network operator filed a request on Tuesday for the Federal Communications Commission to initiate a proceeding on how to regulate some GPS receivers. Those rules would keep manufacturers from making navigation devices that use frequencies outside their assigned band, a problem that is at the root of interference issues that have kept LightSquared from launching its network, the company said.

It's not clear whether an FCC proceeding on this issue would have any effect on LightSquared's bid to operate an LTE (Long-Term Evolution) network on frequencies next to the GPS band. The carrier is required to start operating its network this year, and this type of rulemaking process can take years. LightSquared said that apart from the near-term issue of its network approval from the FCC, it wants to foster more certainty in the U.S. mobile industry.

"We filed this request because of a market failure," said Jeffrey Carlisle, the company's executive vice president for regulatory affairs and public policy. Though makers of wireless receivers have a basic obligation to make sure their devices don't use spectrum assigned to other uses, the GPS industry has been able to sell devices that use frequencies far from their assigned band, he said.

LightSquared's request is aimed specifically at devices that are supposed to use frequencies between 1559MHz and 1610MHz. That covers primarily commercial GPS devices, such as in-car navigation systems, and excludes some more advanced gear such as military receivers.

"These receivers look well outside of the GPS frequencies into our spectrum, into other providers' spectrum," Carlisle said. "We believe this requires the FCC to step in and set sensible, reasonable standards for GPS devices that encourage them to look within their band." LightSquared contends that its authorization to operate a national LTE network in its spectrum band dates back several years and GPS manufacturers should have designed their products with that in mind.

LightSquared's view of the interference problem isn't universally held, though Carlisle said "thousands of pages" of test results have shown GPS receivers improperly elbowing in on the carrier's licensed spectrum. GPS industry representatives have said the specter of a full-fledged LTE network in LightSquared's band wasn't raised until last year.

"LightSquared's filing completely ignores the clear regulatory record on this point, and its suggestion that GPS manufacturers should have designed receivers to accommodate a prohibited use is simply self-serving nonsense," the industry group Coalition to Save Our GPS said in a statement on Tuesday.

One reason for the company's request was to establish that GPS receiver makers have some of the responsibility for preventing interference, Carlisle said. But the company's motivation is broader than that, he said.

"What we want longer term is certainty within the spectrum environment, and frankly, that's going to be relevant regardless of what happens to us in the short term," Carlisle said. Allowing GPS receivers to use spectrum licensed for another service, as LightSquared alleges they do, sets a dangerous precedent for future mobile development, he said.

Carlisle also denied that LightSquared's call to rein in GPS devices is intended to boost the value of its spectrum, which could come into play if the company wants to sell its assets in the future.

"The point is not to get some sort of windfall," Carlisle said. "The point is to have an environment where we feel certain that when we invest in six-year-old rules that there's actually some structure for protecting that investment as the FCC originally intended."

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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