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LightSquared pulls out all the stops to get FCC approval

Financial shenanigans, conflicts of interest and a technical solution?

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LightSquared is fighting with every weapon at its disposal to win the war of public perception, and get FCC approval for its controversial network before the cash runs out.

The wannabe-network operator reckons it has solved the GPS-interference problem, but the battle is now political. So it's accusing a prime government advisor of having a financial interest in seeing LightSquared fail, while also pointing out that directors of GPS-developer Trimble dumped millions of shares following the FCC's last ruling in LightSquared's favour.

The technical solution involves using new GPS kit from Javad GNSS, which is already being tested. LightSquared has also announced new filters costing as little as $6, and a new antenna which was originally described as something which could be retrofitted to existing GPS devices, but later turned into a designed-in feature.

Estimates vary, but there are something in the region of half a million high-precision GPS receivers, which will be knocked out if LightSquared is allowed to build its proposed LTE network in the radio frequencies previously reserved for satellite communications. Even if better filters, and/or antennas, can be retrofitted, there is still the question of who is going to pay for them.

LightSquared contends that it is up to GPS receivers to ignore its signals, and that kit conforming to the GPS standard shouldn't pick them up anyway. The GPS crowd reckons it's too late for that, with billions of devices already being used daily they want neighbouring frequencies kept quiet.

LightSquared had been rushing around telling anyone who'll listen that Bradford Parkinson, vice chairman of the "Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Advisory" – which provides federal advice on GPS matters – is also a director of, and shareholder in, Trimble. Trimble makes GPS kit, and stands to lose a great deal of money if it is forced to supply replacements to GPS users, or charge more for its products.

"It seems highly incongruous and even inappropriate to us that the government's top outside adviser on GPS matters would be simultaneously helping to oversee the same company that is leading the public-relations and lobbying campaign against LightSquared, and that has a financial interest in the outcome of that battle," said a statement from LightSquared, which also highlighted how Trimble directors sold shares directly after the FCC's first ruling in LightSquared's favour:

The trading was "three times the highest amount of stock board members and top managers had unloaded in any one month going back to 2007," says the LightSquared release, as reported by the National Journal, continuing: "This demonstrates that Trimble insiders clearly viewed LightSquared as a financial threat to its commercial business."

The fact that Parkinson is a director of Trimble shouldn't be any great surprise: the chap more-or-less invented GPS and his directorship is on his Wikipedia page, so it's hardly a state secret.

But the revelations are more indicative of how LightSquared is gearing up for a political battle, as well as a technical one. The National Journal also reports that the company has been busy recruiting lobbyists, while the fact that the company regularly makes the pages of Politico shows the direction the debate is taking.

Meanwhile the FCC engineers are testing the technical solutions, with a view to a public decision on the viability of the operator by the end of 2011. Until that ruling LightSquared can't raise any more cash, and is now hinting at legal action to force the regulator's hand, but if it's going to be successful, the company will need to solve the political problems as well as the technical ones. ®

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