LightSquared Fighting an Uphill Battle Against GPS System Coalition

LightSquared is in fight or flight mode. The company has publicly been on attack against the GPS industry, which has expressed grave concerns regarding the potential of interference to its operations from LightSquared’s proposed network.

In a press release LightSquared said that the GPS community is responsible for this mess, because it had the opportunity over the last several years to install filters “that cost as little as five cents each” that would have mitigated any interference issues. LightSquared said that its new plan for deploying its fledgling nationwide wholesale wireless broadband solves interference for “about 99.5% of commercial GPS devices, including 100% of the 300 million GPS-enabled cell phones.”

The new plan calls for LightSquared to use only the lower portion of its L-band spectrum, and not the upper portion, the latter of which abuts the spectrum band used for GPS system services. It also will reduce the maximum power of its base stations by more than 50%. Theoretically, these tactics in concert will lessen the chance that interference to GPS operations will occur.

The Coalition to Save Our GPS doesn’t think much of LightSquared’s latest plan, calling it a “Hail Mary solution,” and a “non-starter.” The Save Our GPS Coalition has dozens of hig profile members including major GPS players such as Garmin (NASDAQ: GRMN) and TomTom, as well as Delta Airlines, FedEx, UPS, Caterpillar, the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).

The GPS Coalition issued a statement saying interference to some GPS systems still would occur even if LightSquared confined its operations to the lower portion of its spectrum band, and that the test results upon which LightSquared is basing its latest assertions are questionable.

Companies under siege from policymakers often play the economic-benefit trump card and LightSquared is no differnet. The company continues to argue that its network would provide a significant economic benefit to consumers worth as much as $120 billion. It didn’t provide any detail as to how it arrived at that figure.

This smells a bit like desperation. But who could blame LightSquared if it is a bit desperate at this point? The company has invested a lot of time, effort and money into this initiative. It has partners relying on it to deliver this network. It has investors who want a return on the millions of dollars they’ve spent.

Cheaper cel phone bills and more jobs would be a good thing for the US economy, no one can argue that. But LightSquared is still fighting an uphill battle. Thousands of applications that people rely on every day are dependent on the reliability of the GPS system.

Vital industries rely on the GPS system – banking, police and law enforcement,  engineering, surveying, aviation, maritime, construction, and agriculture not to mention emergency first-responders and homeland-security sectors. Then think about the chaos that would ensue if any of those sectors encountered interference to their GPS operations.

Only time will tell, but I hope these two can find a solution that works for everyone.