Representatives of a wide variety of industries and companies, including Garmin (NASDAQ: GRMN) and TomTom, have joined a Coalition called “Save Our GPS” to resolve a serious threat to the reliability and viability of the Global Positioning System (GPS) – a national utility upon which millions of Americans rely every day. The GPS coalition is outraged with the Federal Communications Commission for giving LightSquared a two-week extension to file a report about whether or not its network will interfere with the GPS system.
According to the coalition, LightSquared plans to transmit ground-based radio signals that would be one billion or more times more powerful as received on earth than GPS’s low-powered satellite-based signals, potentially causing severe interference impacting millions of GPS receivers – including those used by the federal agencies, state and local governments, first responders, airlines, mariners, civil engineering, construction and surveying, agriculture, and everyday consumers in their cars and on handheld devices.
Earlier this week, we reported that the Lightsquared tests showed a severe interference to the GPS system.
According to the GPS coalition’s website: “GPS has become a key component of the U.S. national infrastructure, the driver of a significant part of the civilian economies of the world, and the enabler of millions of professional precision uses and consumer benefits. The viability of the GPS signal is now threatened – ironically by what appears to be a misguided attempt to increase accessibility to broadband by creating a needless zero-sum result for customers who want both services.”
Starting in November 2010, LightSquared has been trying to get into the lucrative, land-based cell phone communications business by launching an LTE network that would compete against other 4G carriers. The key issue is whether or not LightSquared’s network would cripple GPS reception, which runs on a nearby frequency band, and is crucial to government and private industries ranging from farmers to the Department of Defense.
In January, 2011, the FCC gave LightSquared the go-ahead to offer cell service as long as it didn’t interfere with GPS signals, inspiring an alliance of GPS manufacturers to form the Coalition to Save Our GPS.
Meanwhile, the FCC ordered LightSquared to organize a technical working group of engineers and members of industries that rely on GPS signals to investigate the depth of the interference, and possible solutions. Since then LightSquared has been sending mitigation strategies and test results to the FCC, with the final report due on June 15.
On Tuesday, one agency said LightSquared’s network flunked GPS tests. By late Wednesday, when its report was due, LightSquared asked for and was granted an extension to file.
On Thursday morning, Jim Kirkland, coalition co-founder and vice president and general counsel of GPS manufacturer Trimble, said in a press conference that “the FCC should let the private industry return to work and stop squandering resources to solve an unsolvable problem.”
“I don’t think there will be any surprises when the report is filed in two weeks. All the results are consistent, all show interference [with GPS],” he said. (Source: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2387123,00.asp)
Kirkland added that LightSquared’s request for an extension was reflected “at minimum, a mismanagement within LightSquared.”
LightSquared has remained tight-lipped today, but in his letter to the FCC on Tuesday, Jim Carlisle, a spokesman for LightSquared, explained the deadline extension request by saying the company had underestimated the number of tests required to prove its network should be allowed to deploy.
“Based on preliminary test results, LightSquared determined that additional testing, beyond what had been planned initially, including alternative frequency plans to support its network roll-out, was necessary to permit a proper evaluation of various mitigation options for addressing the GPS receiver overload issue,” he wrote.
“Producing a final report is a massive undertaking. The test development, device selection, laboratory set-up, data compilation, analysis, and drafting that are preconditions to a final report require coordination among numerous parties (most of which have detailed numerous representatives to the working group), including LightSquared, GPS device manufacturers, and federal agencies,” Carlisle continued.
The FCC has extended the working committee’s deadline to July 1.
During the press conference, Kirkland sounded resigned. “The way this process has worked…has been a combination of really really bad ideas and slightly less bad ideas,” he said, saying “thousands of manpower hours” from participating companies in the coalition have been poured into determining the feasibility of LightSquared’s proposal.
He also called the FCC’s extension-granting purely “procedural.”
If passed, LightSquared’s LTE network would go head-to-head against 4G networks from AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Sprint is reportedly nearing a $2 billion deal to rent LightSquared’s network.