LightSquared faces challenge from the House
Yet another hurdle to be jumped
Two US Representatives have tabled an amendment which will stop box 'o frogs wireless plan LightSquared from ever building its network, at least until it can prove a negative.
The amendment requires LightSquared to prove that its planned pan-USA LTE network won't interfere with GPS systems, before the FCC can spend any money altering the company's licence to enable it to build that network. That's despite LightSquared already agreeing to shift frequencies, and ahead of the cross-industry report on the subject which isn't due to be published until next week.
The amendment has been tabled by two Republicans, Steve Austria (Ohio) and Kevin Yoder (Kansas), and leans a little towards hyperbole in claiming that LightSquared is planning "a ground-based mobile broadband system with a signal that is roughly 1 billion times more powerful than satellite-based GPS signals, within a spectrum immediately adjacent to the GPS".
That's also inaccurate, given last week's announcement that LightSquared would be shuffling away from the GPS bands in what must be considered an admission that its service (as originally envisioned) would have caused significant problems for GPS users.
The problem with running right beside the GPS signal is twofold. Firstly, the bell-shaped LightSquared signal will inevitably leak into the neighbouring band, but equally a cheapo (or highly sensitive) GPS receiver will pick up signals from neighbouring bands as it strains to pick up the weak satellite transmission.
LightSquared reckons that its signal is very square (rather than bell-shaped) and so doesn't leak much, and that fewer than half a percent of GPS kit is that cheap/sensitive and that this can be fixed, but it also argues that the GPS industry has had every opportunity to raise this issue years ago and it is more than a little annoyed to have it all come to a head now.
The company points to its FCC filings going back to 2001 which recognise the potential for GPS interference, and takes some responsibility for mitigating it. But LightSquared also wants to share that responsibility, claiming that while it has worked to ensure transmissions don't leak into neighbouring bands, it is up to the GPS industry to ensure receivers are only receiving in the GPS band, as the FCC put it:
"We emphasize that responsibility for protecting services rests not only on new entrants but also on incumbent users themselves, who must use receivers that reasonably discriminate against reception of signals outside their allocated spectrum."
The GPS industry has nothing to gain from LightSquared, and no wish to use more expensive receivers which could be tuned more accurately. The incumbent mobile operators have an enormous amount to lose from gaining a competitor who is using (satellite) spectrum for an LTE network.
LightSquared still hasn't the money to build that network, and there aren't any devices that could use it anyway, but if the House of Representatives does pass the amendment then it will be one more hurdle that LightSquared will have to jump if it is ever going to be more than a mad scheme to change the wireless world. ®
There's a bigger story here
It is the high-precision GPS that will be hammered, primary users are agriculture and surveying. This is not good, and there's more to this than is included in most news reports, even tech-oriented reports. Many high-precision GPS receivers use satellite-based correction services that also occupy adjacent frequency bands, and so the receivers' antennae are designed to work on both, with the LightSquared stuff whacking all of it.
LightSquared's proposal will likely have little effect on consumer-level GPS, but will seriously harm commercial high-precision GPS systems used for real work. The value of that work far outweighs the the apparent small size if you simply compare the number of high-precision receivers to the rest of them (reportedly it is "merely" 0.5%).
As for the politics, kindly note that George Soros is a significant LightSquared backer. Mr. Soros is also a big backer of president 0, who appointed Julius Genachowski, current chairman of the FCC and a LightSquared proponent.
LightSquared has consistently, since the new management came on board, misrepresented its plans. The original proposal in 2003 was for a satellite-based system with a few land-based low power towers, using power levels that were on the order of those used by NavStar, Galileo and Glonass GPS satellites. Only last November did they formally propose to to the FCC that they change their operating mode to a land-based system with very high power levels. The initial tests showed significant interference to precision satellite navigation equipment and also revealed that the LightSquared towers that were used in those tests weren't even using the full power or frequency range that LightSquared now wants to deploy. For more: http://www.gpsworld.com/
Re: series of tests being run
The results of those tests are to be published next week: July 1, though it's safe to assume that the interim results have already pushed LightSquared into moving away from the GPS band.
The results were delayed two weeks (at LightSquared's request) which gave LightSquared time to announce the shift in frequency.
They should make interesting reading when published.