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LightSquared accuses government of ‘rigged’ interference tests

Company claims collusion with the GPS industry

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LightSquared has issued a public protest over the results of GPS interference testing by the US government of its planned LTE mobile network, claiming the tests have been “rigged” to fail.

Last week EXCOM released the results in a letter to the US Commerce Department, and they were about as unequivocal as it gets. The unanimous conclusion of the group was that the LightSquared planned system did interfere with many GPS receivers, and an analysis by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it would also interfere with several aircraft systems.

“Based upon this testing and analysis, there appear to be no practical solutions or mitigations that would permit the LightSquared broadband service, as proposed, to operate in the next few months or years without significantly interfering with GPS. As a result, no additional testing is warranted at this time,” it states.

The testing, if accepted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), would essentially kill LightSquared’s business plan. Sprint had given the company until the end of the month to clear its regulatory hurdles and get started adding base stations to its mobile network to provide LTE coverage and other partners are getting restive. In a blunt statement, LightSquared said that the testing had been rigged.

“The process used to test GPS devices by Air Force Space Command on behalf of the Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Executive Committee (PNT EXCOM) was rigged by manufacturers of GPS receivers and government end users to produce bogus results,” is claimed.

Bias for failure was built in to testing from the start, it argues. The GPS manufacturers selected outdated or discontinued devices that had little if any filtering, and the samples make up less than one per cent of the contemporary GPS device market. The only mass-market device to fail performed “flawlessly” in independent testing, according to the company.

As for the tests themselves, the standard for failure was set at one dB of interference, which LightSquared argues is well below the eight dB or so that most GPS devices can cope with. The company claims the decision to go with one dB as the failure measurement is based on an International Telecommunication Union (ITU) standard that specifically excludes GPS.

The company repeated earlier claims that the testing also used power settings 32 times above the standard operating level, and questioned why the government allowed GPS manufacturers to take such a central part in the process. It called on the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and FCC to conduct a second round of open tests.

Arguing for a second shake of the dice is the company’s only option, as far as El Reg can see, but there is little else it can do. LightSquared, and backers Harbinger Capital Partners, have big plans and envisioned a huge dumb mobile data pipe that could be used by many companies to provide mobile services across the US. It has burned through cash launching a satellite and buying up spectrum that it can’t use without regulatory approval.

Neither EXCOM nor the FCC were available for comment at time of going to press, but even a second round of testing may not be enough to save LightSquared. If approved, they would take months and Sprint’s support is essential to get the kind of coverage area any useful mobile service would need.

It’s a pity really, since breaking the Verizon/AT&T near-duopoly on the US mobile market would introduce some much needed competition. This now looks doomed, and it remains to be seen if LightSpeed’s financial backers will be willing to fund it for much longer. ®

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