Out in Front: Catch a Wave

November 1, 2011  - By

Expecting guidance from FCC regulators by year’s end? LightSquared purports to do so, but a more measured evaluation finds a December decision unlikely.

The current test cycle — hopefully not the final one — just reached its end on November 4 at White Sands Missile Range, under the Air Force’s watchful eye. That testing focused only on “cellular and personal/general navigation” receivers as specified in a September letter from the National Telecommunication and Information Agency. According to unconfirmed reports, this round of testing did not include the JAVAD GNSS precision receiver with a new filter prototype, although LightSquared lobbied strongly to have the potentially bacon-rescuing device included.

Even if allowed, that move would have been highly premature, and ultimately misguided and misguiding. The 33 other high-precision and network GPS receivers that underwent May testing would all have to be retested, with the new filter incorporated somehow in each one, before any meaningful conclusion about technical feasibility could be drawn. Then retrofit cost issues would have to be addressed. Months of work remain before any fair and complete evaluation can occur.

A National PNT Engineering Forum summary of the cellular and personal/general navigation testing at White Sands is expected by November 30. A complete report may not appear until December. An FCC decision that same month, or the next, or the next, would be speedy and premature beyond any precedent that even the trigger-happy commission has yet set for itself.

As a basis for a decision on the waiver, the cellular and personal nav testing is still insufficient. At least one, probably two more rounds of testing — at bare minimum — involving the recent proposed filter fixes and a complete range of high-precision receivers should take place before putting national security, infrastructure, hundreds of thousands of jobs, and hundreds of billions of dollars of public and private-sector investments at risk.

This doesn’t mean everyone not directly involved in testing can chill.

This is a political and very high-stakes financial struggle, not just a series of complex technical issues. Decisions when they are made will reflect political  considerations and financial motives as well as technical test results.

Everyone who cares about the outcome should sit down today and write letters or e-mails to their three congresspeople — two senators and one representative — stating strongly and clearly their views and reasons. Even if you have written before. Congress is the only place currently that any form of leverage can be exerted.

We are riding a wave of change, and precariously at that. While keeping our balance, we must continually gauge the water, the wind, our own stamina — and warily watch the great white sharks that are circling.

This article is tagged with , , and posted in From the Magazine, Opinions

About the Author:

Alan Cameron is editor-in-chief and publisher of GPS World magazine, where he has worked since 2000. He also writes the monthly GNSS Design & Test e-Newsletter and the Wide Awake blog.

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