December 23, 2011

With its back against the wall following tests confirming widespread interference with Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers from its signal, on December 20, 2011, upstart telecommunications provider LightSquared lashed out at the GPS industry in a Federal Communications Commission filing, claiming poor design of the units is solely to blame for the problem.

“It recently has become apparent that 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’ frequency band in which the U.S. GPS system is intended to operate,” the company wrote in the filing, “as well as across the adjacent ‘MSS’ frequency band that is not intended for GPS use, and in which LightSquared is licensed.”

That statement comes just seven days after the company extended an olive branch of sorts to GPS users, offering to limit its signal to lower frequency bands – those farthest away from the bandwidth historically used by GPS – in exchange for immediate access to that spectrum. Review the details of the proposed concession by LightSquares. LightSquared aims to deploy a nationwide wireless broadband communications network, promising to spread 4G wireless access to rural areas as well as metropolitan centers.

In the December 20, 2011, filing, LightSquared also asserted that the GPS industry “claims, without justification, that these GPS receivers somehow are entitled to ‘protection’ from the LightSquared-authorized operations that occur entirely within the MSS band.” The company also took GPS users and manufacturers to task for insisting that LightSquared modify its plans for a nationwide wireless network, saying those entities have “demanded” the company cede segments of bandwidth the FCC originally licensed for the network, before the full effects of that signal on GPS receivers become widely known.

The comments repeat a previous claim made by LightSquared: that GPS manufacturers knew comparatively weak signals from positioning satellites could be overwhelmed by stronger signals in adjacent bandwidth. The latest statements add even more fuel to that fire.

Not surprisingly, advocates for the GPS industry – including private, commercial and government users of global positioning system equipment, in industries as diverse as aviation, maritime, military, and agriculture – wasted no time in refuting LightSquared’s latest missive. The Coalition to Save our GPS, made up of over 200 members (including NBAA) committed to preserving GPS benefits, responded immediately to news of the filing.

“In its January 2011 order, the Commission made clear that LightSquared would not be permitted to commence operations until it had demonstrated that it would not interfere with GPS. LightSquared did not challenge this condition at the time, and has to live up to it,” said Jim Kirkland, Vice President and General Counsel of Trimble. “There is overwhelming technical evidence – the most recent of which was released by the Government just last week – that this condition has not been satisfied.”

Following deliberations by the National Executive Committee for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing, the FCC is expected to rule on the issue in early 2012.