Trading GPS Navigation for Wireless 4G Access

LightSquared, a hedge fund-backed start-up viewed as a major enabler of wireless competition in the US, was granted control over a portion of the US spectrum by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in order to build and wholesale 4G-LTE wireless broadband service through a nationwide network.  According to their own website, “LightSquared will unleash the boundless opportunity of wireless broadband connectivity for all.”   But unfortunately this presumed advantage comes at a serious known cost for popular navigation systems used by aviation and first responders.

During initial tests of the network conducted last month, there was significant interference with the Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers used by ambulances and state patrol.  These tests were conducted at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico where both sets of first responders experienced outages due to the LightSquared cell towers.  Bill Range, Director of the state E911 program, stated in a letter that the results of the April tests, “substantiate concerns that the LightSquared network will cause interference to GPS signals and jeopardize 911 and public safety nationwide.

The problem is that the LightSquared system operates using bands between 1525-1559 MHz and 1626.5-1660.5 MHz while GPS signals operate in the intervening bands of 1559-1610 MHz.  Making matters worse, the strength of the LightSquared signal is many orders of magnitude greater than the GPS signal.  As a result, the GPS receivers of Otero County ambulances could not establish any connection with the GPS satellites within 60 yards of a tower during testing.  The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also warned of potential GPS outages within 300 miles of the LightSquared tower in Boulder City, NV.  The US Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Transportation (DOT) also have serious concerns about the impact that the 40,000 cell towers proposed to make up the LightSquared national network will have on GPS receivers.  These agencies complain that they “were not sufficiently included in the development of the LightSquared input” and the result is to effectively put commerce before public safety.

Consequently, LightSquared, along with the GPS industry and other federal agencies are conducting additional tests through June to determine the extent of interference between the cellular network and GPS receivers.  As your advocate, the Coalition to Save Our GPS is working to minimize the threat to applications and devices that leverage the Global Positioning System.  Their website also provides links for contacting your congressional or FCC representatives.

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “Trading GPS Navigation for Wireless 4G Access

  1. The following represents portions of an open letter from Mary Hanley of the Coalition to Save Our GPS:

    “As you know, the GPS Working Group will submit its final report on interference to the FCC on June 15. While the GPS industry continues to participate in good faith in the FCC-required interference testing, we have no reason to expect anything other than what we have said all along – that LightSquared’s planned network will cause widespread interference to the more than 500 million receivers nationwide. The simple fact is that you cannot argue with the laws of physics.”

    “Lastly, a ‘Dear Colleague’ letter is currently being circulated in the U.S. House of Representatives asking for members to co-sign a letter to FCC Chairman Genachowski asking that the FCC only grant final approval to LightSquared if the company can indisputably demonstrate that their proposal will not interfere with GPS technology. The letter’s original cosponsors are U.S. Reps Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas), Ralph Hall (R-Texas), Steve Austria (R-Ohio), and Collin Peterson (D-Minn.)”

    “Please urge your Member of Congress to sign on to this important letter. It will be sent to the FCC by June 3rd, so please contact them soon.” The Coalition also asks that you submit sample user stories of why and how GPS is important to your organization or industry on their website.

  2. Further details of recent developments regarding this effort:

    Senators Pat Roberts of Kansas and Bill Nelson of Nebraska, along with thirty one of their colleagues in the U.S Senate, sent a strong message to FCC Chairman Genachowski last week. “To ensure full protection that GPS service is not compromised in any way, we request the full Commission require LightSquared to demonstrate non-interference of GPS as a condition prior to any operation of its proposed service, and we request the Commission rescind LightSquared’s waiver until this demonstration can be made,” the letter read in part. Many of our coalition members have contacted their Senators urging them to co-sign this important letter.

    U.S. Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) successfully included language in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that requires the Secretary of Defense to notify Congress if he determines there is widespread interference with the military’s use of GPS caused by a commercial communications service. “When it comes to GPS spectrum, government agencies must consult with the Defense Department on any effects. Our service members who are on the ground in two wars count on an uninterrupted GPS capability to do their jobs. This language creates a public notification so we know the magnitude of the problem,” said Turner. We expect that this legislation will be approved by the House of Representatives before Memorial Day.

    The FCC’s unusual haste in the LightSquared decision did not go unnoticed by Senator Grassley of Iowa. The Senator sent a letter asking the agency to produce e-mails and other communications between LightSquared, Harbinger Capital Partners, which controls LightSquared, and Phillip Falcone, founder and chief executive officer of Harbinger, and the Commission.

    The first responder community is also becoming increasingly concerned. Just this week the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) joined the Coalition. In April, the State of New Mexico’s E-911 program office conducted live tests at Holloman Air Force Base of GPS equipment used by first responders and reported that the findings “substantiate concerns that the LightSquared network will cause interference to GPS signals and jeopardize 911 and public safety nationwide.”

    Visit http://www.SaveOurGPS.org to learn more.

  3. These findings (read article http://apb.directionsmag.com/entry/lightsquared-update-6-910-11/183145) come a week before the official working group report expected June 15. Lets hope that the FCC listens and assigns their Lightsquared project some other frequency.

  4. Someone in this administration seems to be pushing this effort awfully hard. Is it really fair to trade off a legitimate business tool like high-precision GPS (used by commercial airlines, ambulances, the military, etc.) for the benefit of building a single private business selling wholesale 4G wireless?? Who is afraid it will not happen without government help?! “LightSquared’s (well-funded) Reaction to the GPS-Broadband Report: High Precision GPS to be Sacrificed? Can This New Proposal Be Stopped?” from an article in AmeriSurv.com magazine. Read the current story here: http://www.amerisurv.com/content/view/8887/ and get involved with your federal representatives.

  5. For those of you having difficulty submitting LightSquared comments to the FCC. How to submit an official letter: http://www.lbszone.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=7734&Itemid=2&utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

  6. Given Sprint’s recent announcement of a deal with LightSquared it will be interesting to see how things unfold this fall when LightSquared attempts to get FCC clearance.

    Here is an interesting view on the latest happenings with Sprint/LightSquared.

    http://tmfassociates.com/blog/2011/07/29/you-say-you-want-a-revolution/

  7. Great summary of the issue and current update of where this issue stands now. “LightSquared Threatens to Sue”: http://www.ainonline.com/?q=aviation-news/aviation-international-news/2011-10-31/lightsquared-threatens-sue

  8. Upping the ante again… U.S. Senator Charles Grassley said he would place a hold on two nominees to the Federal Communications Commission because the agency hasn’t answered questions about Philip Falcone’s proposed LightSquared wireless service. More fropm Bloomberg News: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-11-03/grassley-cites-lightsquared-query-in-holding-fcc-nominees-1-.html

  9. Really lousy an one-sided article at http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/nov/8/lightsquared-gps-on-collision-course/ – which really should be clearly identified as an “editorial” by LightSquared, but the comments are actually very interesting and shows that even if the media is clueless, there are those who see what is really going on. The question is whether their voice (and science) is louder than LightSquared’s money as LightSquared chooses to continue to build a “too big to fail” defense while the FCC stalls on a decision.

  10. Details leaked on December 9 show that a significant number of GPS devices tested were seriously compromised as a result of LightSquared signals. So, yesterday LightSquared responds by attacking the leak of this information -http://www.lightsquared.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Letter-to-the-Honorable-Ashton-B-Carter-and-John-D-Porcari.pdf.

    Wholesale wireless 4G is a fine goal – I want access myself – but I am not willing to give up the benefits of the many GPS applications that include tracking everything from aircraft to ambulances and the many other commercial and intelligence based uses of locational data to achieve it under the current LightSquared plan. All of this is too important to rush approval of the demands of a single commercial venture. And being that this one that is still under scrutiny from federal investigators along with notorious others such as Solyndra and First Solar doesn’t make me feel any more comfortable with the expeditious and secret treatment of their financial concerns. Let the process be open and fair to all concerns to prevent a major mistake that we and our economy literally cannot live with.

  11. While I don’t expect this to be the end of story, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA of 2012) certainly puts Lightsquared in a difficult position: http://www.upi.com/Science_News/2012/01/09/Inteference-worries-may-scuttle-cell-plan/UPI-39501326167247/?spt=hs&or=sn

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