LightSquared turns tables on GPS device makers

With its bid for regulatory approval to set up a new US wireless broadband network facing scrutiny over potential interference with GPS systems, LightSquared has shifted its stance, arguing that GPS device makers have been infringing on its licences.

The company, backed by Philip Falcone’s Harbinger Capital, has filed a petition with the US Federal Communications Commission seeking a “declaratory ruling” confirming its right to use the spectrum it has licenced to launch a wholesale 4G network using LTE technology next year.

The move, which comes less than two weeks before the deadline written into a 15-year network sharing agreement between Sprint Nextel and LightSquared, marks a significant escalation in the battle between LightSquared and opponents of its plans, including lawmakers, the US defence and transportation departments and GPS device manufacturers.

Under the terms of the agreement with Sprint, LightSquared has until the end of this year to win FCC approval for its new network, which is designed to reach 260m people by 2016. However, the approval process has become bogged down in the dispute over GPS interference.

Until earlier this month, LightSquared had sought to accommodate its opponents and had argued that, with certain modifications, its network would not cause interference to GPS devices.

However, following the publication of new test results that suggested the network might still interfere with the majority of GPS devices, LightSquared appears to have changed tack and is now arguing that the GPS industry has been manufacturing devices that bleed into its licenced spectrum.

“The one inescapable conclusion from two rounds of independent testing is that the incompatibility problem is not caused by LightSquared’s network,” said Jeff Carlisle, executive vice-president for regulatory affairs and public policy. ”It is clear that GPS devices are purposefully designed to look into LightSquared’s licenced spectrum and, given this evidence, we believe decision-makers should consider LightSquared’s legal rights as the licensee,” he said.

Mr Carlisle added: “LightSquared has had FCC authorisation to build its network for over eight years and that authorisation was endorsed by the GPS industry and fully reviewed and allowed to proceed by several other government agencies. Commercial GPS device-makers have had nearly a decade to design and sell devices that do not infringe on LightSquared’s licenced spectrum. They have no right to complain in the 11th hour about incompatibility when they had ample opportunity to avoid this problem.”

The agreement with Sprint Nextel would dramatically reduce the cost of rolling out the network and enable LightSquared to begin offering services to more than 30 contracted customers.

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