January 18, 2012 10:43 pm

LightSquared rejects GPS interference tests

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LightSquared, the company seeking to build a nationwide 4G wireless data network, accused manufacturers of commercial GPS navigation equipment and government officials of “rigging” the results of the latest round of tests suggesting that its proposed network would cause widespread interference with GPS devices and some flight safety systems.

The company, which is backed by Philip Falcone’s Harbinger Capital, is battling to win Federal Communications Commission approval to start building a data network before its funding runs out.

LightSquared plans to use LTE technology to build its network at a cost of about $14bn to offer wholesale services to a wide range of telecommunications groups and other business users. However, the FCC’s final approval for the network is conditional on LightSquared proving that its powerful wireless transmitters do not interfere with devices using the neighbouring low-powered GPS band.

On a briefing call with reporters on Wednesday, LightSquared executives accused GPS industry representatives and government end-users of manipulating the latest tests by the Air Force Space Command for the space-based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Executive Committee (PNT-Excom) to produce negative results.

“The testing just doesn’t reflect reality, and it was probably never intended to,” Jeffrey Carlisle, executive vice-president of regulatory affairs and public policy at LightSquared, said.

The PNT-Excom said last week that, despite modifications, LightSquared’s proposed network continues to interfere with GPS receivers and that as a result it did not need to conduct additional testing.

“There appears to be no practical solutions or mitigations that would permit the LightSquared broadband service, as proposed, to operate in the next few months or years without significantly interfering with GPS,” Ashton Carter, deputy secretary of defence, and John Porcari, deputy secretary of transportation, said. “As a result, no additional testing is warranted at this time.”

LightSquared, however, claims that the tests were flawed in three ways. First, GPS manufacturers were allowed to select old and often obsolete GPS equipment for the tests. “The initial test parameters were chosen for failure,” said Ed Thomas, a former FCC chief engineer, now a consultant for LightSquared.

Second, LightSquared claims the testing methodology was flawed and did not reflect real conditions. Third, said Mr Carlisle, the process was “shrouded in secrecy” to hide PNT-Excom’s methodology. At one point the testing was delayed, Mr Carlisle said, so GPS vendors could switch out the device set to obtain more favourable results.

LightSquared is now asking the National Space-Based Position, Navigation, and Timing Advisory Board to re-evaluate PNT-Excom’s test results in light of its concerns and to move forward with testing high-precision GPS receivers using an independent laboratory with no affiliation to and no direct participation from the commercial GPS industry.

LightSquared executives concede that such tests would take several months to devise and conduct, but say that the company has sufficient funds to take it through “the next several quarters and well beyond FCC clearance”.

Responding to LightSquared’s allegations, Jim Kirkland, vice-president and general counsel of Trimble, a founding member of a Washington lobby group, Coalition to Save Our GPS, that has led opposition to the LightSquared proposals, said: “At each and every turn, whenever LightSquared does not like a test result or ruling, it either seeks to change the parameters or cries foul – and frequently both.

“Today’s LightSquared statement is more of the same. A year ago, the FCC’s international bureau provided a conditional waiver to LightSquared, and that condition was a categorical requirement that it prove its plans would not interfere with GPS.

“LightSquared assured one and all that its plans would not cause interference with GPS. But test after test has shown that LightSquared’s ill-conceived plans do in fact cause widespread interference with GPS. LightSquared does not like the test results, so it is attacking the testers.”

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