It looks like ag retailers, applicators and farmers will not have to worry about upgrading their GPS (Global Positioning System) equipment to accommodate LightSquared’s proposed wireless 4G ground-based network. The Federal Communications Commission in mid-February announced it was going to suspend LightSquared’s waiver indefinitely after recommendations from nine federal agencies showed that the company’s wireless signal interfered with GPS signals significantly.
In mid-January, nine federal agencies decided that none of LightSquared’s proposals for its LTE 4G broadband network would overcome significant interference with GPS devices. The National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Executive Committee (PNT ExComm) announced that the nine federal agencies that make up the body made the decision unanimously.
PNT ExComm released a memo with its findings after being involved in testing the proposed network at the request of the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which were providing LightSquared opportunities to provide alternatives to its original proposed network.
Both the original and modified proposals by LightSquared would cause harmful interference to many GPS receiver signals, the PNT ExComm chairmen said in the memo. The agency also said a Federal Aviation Administration analysis had concluded the network would be incompatible with aircraft safety systems.
LightSquared reacted to the decision by claiming “bias and inappropriate collusion” by the government. It claimed the process used to evaluate its original and proposed plans was compromised by a conflict of interest since one of the government’s key advisers on the matter is a board member of Trimble, a manufacturer of GPS receiver equipment.
The company further called for an investigation into the alleged conflicts of interest by the PNT Advisory Board, which advises the PNT ExComm. LightSquared said both the PNT Advisory Board and PNT ExComm had abandoned their commitment to test GPS receiver filters that LightSquared believes can solve the interference issue.
But NTIA’s decision finally led the FCC to revoke a waiver for LightSquared in mid-February, which prevents the company from turning on its network. The FCC’s decision bans LightSquared from launching its service indefinitely.
“LightSquared’s proposal to provide ground-based mobile service offered the potential to unleash new spectrum for mobile broadband and enhance competition,” FCC said in a statement. “The commission clearly stated from the outset that harmful interference to GPS would not be permitted. This is why the Conditional Waiver Order issued by the commission’s international bureau prohibited LightSquared from beginning commercial operations unless harmful interference issues were resolved.
“NTIA, the federal agency that coordinates spectrum uses for the military and other federal government entities, has now concluded that there is no practical way to mitigate potential interference at this time. Consequently, the commission will not lift the prohibition on LightSquared. The International Bureau of the commission is proposing to (1) vacate the Conditional Waiver Order, and (2) suspend indefinitely LightSquared’s Ancillary Terrestrial Component authority to an extent consistent with the NTIA letter. A public notice seeking comment on NTIA’s conclusions and on these proposals will be released tomorrow (Feb. 15).”
Despite the ruling, LightSquared issued a statement saying it would remain committed to finding a resolution with the federal government and the GPS industry to resolve all remaining concerns. Once again the company blamed the recent decision on NTIA using flawed information from the PNT ExCOM’s conclusions.
LightSquared still owns spectrum bands that could valuable to the right entity. LightSquared could swap some of its spectrum with the Department of Defense, away from the interfering GPS band, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal. However, spectrum swaps are not as simple as they sound and would require lengthy negotiations.