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LightSquared demands FCC ruling

Patience – and money – running out fast

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LightSquared has filed a petition for Declaratory Ruling with the FCC for confirmation of its right to exist, as it's running out of cash fast and needs a decision.

The company was expecting a decision by the end of the year, but confidence in its plan has been shaken by the selective leaking of test results and ongoing claims that the GPS industry is too big to be put at risk, so now LightSquared is demanding that the FCC state unequivocally that GPS manufacturers have no right to protection, or restitution, from LightSquared's business model.

The problem is that the (weak) GPS signal is right beside that licensed by LightSquared for mobile telephones. The FCC granted LightSquared that licence, including a change of use as the bands were previously reserved for satellite-phones only. The problem is that some GPS kit listens too broadly, and can thus pick up (and be overwhelmed by) the neighbouring signal from LightSquared's new network.

As the company's petition (PDF) explains: "The commercial GPS industry has manufactured, and sold to unsuspecting consumers, unlicensed and poorly designed GPS receivers that 'listen' for radio signals both in the 'RNSS' [GPS] frequency band ... as well as across the adjacent 'MSS' frequency band that is not intended for GPS use, and in which LightSquared is licensed".

LightSquared has already agreed to abandon its upper frequency (which is right next to the GPS bands) and has reduced the transmission power in the lower band as well as edging away to reduce leakage. It has also financed the development of filters which it claims would allow any GPS kit to coexist with the LightSquared network for a few dollars (once fitted).

Even without the filters LightSquared reckons the other mitigations mean every mobile phone tested works fine, so it's only the very high-precision (or very cheaply made) kit which remains a problem.

The GPS industry wants the neighbouring bands kept clear forever, to protect a service which is too important to risk by filling nearby frequencies with telephony. Legally that argument holds little water, but despite that it's persuasive reasoning - there are millions of GPS devices being used daily, and while most of them won't need better filters a significant number of them will.

The problem, for the FCC, is that LightSquared has already invested hundreds of millions, quite possibly billions, of dollars into the venture, so the FCC is going to have to find a damn good reason to reject the claim or risk being sued for going back on the agreement.

LightSquared needs to raise more cash, and within the next three months if Reuters is to be believed, but no one is going to invest in the box-'o-frogs plan until the FCC makes a public decision, which is why this petition has been filed. ®

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