LightSquared, FCC’s GPS Interference Blame-Game Worries Analysts

By | August 12, 2011 | Feature, Government, Telecom

[Satellite News 08-12-11] Wholesale 4G LTE network operator LightSquared filed its latest grievance with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Aug. 11, in a letter claiming that the GPS industry failed to comply with the U.S. Department of Defense’s filtering standards, which created the root cause of its potential GPS signal interference issues.
   LightSquared Executive Vice President for Regulatory Affairs and Public Policy Jeffrey Carlisle wrote in the letter that the GPS industry ignored the Pentagon’s September 2008 GPS Positioning Service Performance Standard, which called for GPS receivers to filter out transmissions from adjacent bands in order to achieve its intended performance requirements.
   “Had the GPS industry complied with Pentagon’s recommended filtering standards for GPS receivers, there would be no issue with LightSquared’s operations in the lower portion of its downlink band,” Carlisle said in the filing. “In addition to ignoring the Department of Defense standard, the GPS industry also has spurned international recommendations for GPS receiver design. Since 2000, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has cautioned that a more stringent pre-correlator filter may be needed to protect GPS receiver operations from adjacent band RF emissions.”
   A constant barrage of statements and press releases between LightSquared, GPS industry groups and the FCC have flooded the media market since January 2011, when Garmin engineers filed test results with FCC claiming that LightSquared’s 4G LTE interference would result in GPS dead zones across the United States. The engineers highlighted that LightSquared’s signals could disrupt navigation equipment on aircraft, boats, tractors and automobiles. The FCC is now considering whether to grant final approval to LightSquared’s network rollout, which plans to connect 260 million subscribers using bandwidth previously reserved for satellites.
   The LightSquared complaint follows comments made by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski at a press conference earlier this week. When asked about how the negotiations were progressing, Genachowski said the agency was, “conducting an engineering, fact-based process. We’re not going to do anything that creates problems for GPS safety and service as we explore technical solutions that will both protect GPS and allow a new service to launch. We haven’t set a deadline for our decision, and we’re considering whether more testing may be needed.”
   A satellite market analyst, who asked not to be named for this story, told Satellite News that the recent comments being issued from both sides of the table reveal frustration and stubbornness in coming to a reasonable resolution. “LightSquared may be working under the assumption that they are trying to communicate their confidence in their stance to the media, but all they’re really doing is worrying investors,” the analyst said. “The FCC is clearly bothered by the blame game and, judging by Genachowski’s comments, may feel that LightSquared is trying to push their way through to an approval. I don’t think that’s going to work.”
   LightSquared has made efforts on its behalf to come up with alternatives. Shortly after test results were released indicating one of LightSquared’s 10-megahertz (MHz) frequency blocks as an interference threat to GPS receivers in June, LightSquared announced it entered negotiations with MSS operator Inmarsat to accelerate the schedule for the company to begin using Inmarsat L-band block frequencies. LightSquared said its own research determined that the lower 10 MHz block of the spectrum would not create interference risks as it is located farther away from the GPS frequencies.
   Carlisle said that GPS manufacturers have been unreasonable in coming to an agreement, recently rejecting LightSquared’s offer of a 23 MHz guard band that would be created by LightSquared’s decision to begin its terrestrial operations in the lower half of the downlink band.
   “The [U.S. Department of Defense] standard, in effect, grants GPS a 4 MHz ‘guard band.’ Instead, the GPS industry unreasonably insists on a 34 MHz guard band, which is 8.5 times as wide as the Pentagon’s recommendation,” Carlisle wrote in the filing. “If all spectrum users demanded the irrational guard band solutions that GPS manufacturers are demanding, we would not have broadband in this country and efficient spectrum use would take a backseat to the squeakiest wheel. This type of precedent would set the United States’ competitiveness back by decades. By demanding that LightSquared be prevented from building a ground service that has been authorized for years, the GPS manufacturers are simply trying to formalize squatting for free on someone else’s licensed spectrum.”
   The analyst agreed with LightSquared’s assertion that the GPS industry has a responsibility to use its licensed spectrum in accordance with international and federal government standards, but added that the argument is being used to hint at financial motivations.
   “LightSquared makes this statement and then tacks on a jab that the GPS industry benefits from taxpayer subsidies and is completely dependent on a government satellite system. In the next sentence, the company says that they remain committed to working in partnership with ‘responsible’ members of the GPS industry. This is unnecessary political posturing,” the analyst said. “It is entirely possible that LightSquared can work out this issue with the GPS industry and launch its 4G LTE service on time, and they should because investors and consumers are excited about it. These back-and-forth attacks, however, solidify LightSquared’s private and public sector opponents while creating a much more difficult environment at the negotiating table.”
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