LightSquared Snuffed by NITA, FCC

February 16, 2012  - By

The more than year-long battle between wireless start-up LightSquared and the GPS industry peaked earlier this week when the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), tasked by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to study the potential interference problem between LightSquared’s mobile wireless proposal and GPS receivers, issued a statement and report with the following conclusion:

“The federal agencies and LightSquared have invested significant time and resources to identify and analyze proposed solutions to address the impact of LightSquared’s planned network implementations. Based on the testing and analyses conducted to date, as well as numerous discussions with LightSquared, it is clear that LightSquared’s proposed implementation plans, including operations in the lower 10MHz would impact both general/personal navigation and certified aviation GPS receivers. We conclude at this time that there are no mitigation strategies that both solve the interference issues and provide LightSquared with an adequate commercial network deployment.”

Read the entire letter from the NTIA to the FCC here (pdf).

Read the NTIA technical report here (pdf). 

The FCC subsequently issued a statement including the following paragraph:

“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.”

As promised, the FCC subsequently opened a Public Notice seeking comments based on NTIA’s report and conclusions. View the Public Notice here. Public comments close on March 1, 2012. If you have invested in GPS technology, you should enter your comments to protect your investment.

Submitting your comments to the FCC only takes five minutes. You don’t need to write an essay. Just state that you support the NTIA’s conclusion.

You can compose your comments in a text editor like Notepad, then save the file and attach it. Once you go to the FCC comment submission website, it will make sense. If you have any problems, email me.

  1. Go to the FCC comment submission website by clicking here.
  2. Type in the following information:
  • Proceeding Number: 11-109
  • Name of Filer: Enter your name
  • Address Line 1: Enter your address
  • City: Enter your city
  • State: Enter your state
  • Zip: Enter your zipe code
  • Attach your comments

That’s it. Five minutes and you’re done.

You might have heard about another Public Notice that the FCC issued regarding LightSquared. It is in response to LightSquared’s petition to rule that GPS receivers are not entitled to interference protection. I wrote about it last week. You can read my article here. At that time, I was planning to submit my comments, but that was before the NTIA released its report and conclusions this week. I wouldn’t suggest you not enter a comment to the earlier Public Notice, but certainly I’d focus on entering comments on the latest Public Notice in support of NTIA’s report and recommendations.

For those of you who heard that LightSquared might have been a good idea in order to make wireless mobile Internet access more affordable, I have serious doubts about that statement. Here’s why…

Borrowing from my article last week, LightSquared is relying on Sprint’s infrastructure (~31,000 towers) for its terrestrial operations, and supplementing them with ~3,400 LightSquared towers at some point. I’ve used Sprint’s mobile phone service for about 12 years, and I used Sprint’s data card service for several years (not any longer). I pretty much know that Sprint is good for metro areas and poor for rural areas. Like other wireless providers (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, etc.), Sprint is strong in some geographic areas, and weak in others. Since LightSquared is focused on serving people (densely populated areas) rather than geographic areas (e.g., farmlands), their terrestrial service is not going to be even close to being nationwide. LightSquared’s solution for areas not covered by their terrestrial service is to use satellite communications for internet connectivity. If you want to know more about this, read Tim Farrar’s blog on the subject, which includes a map of LightSquared’s terrestrial coverage. I’ve asked LightSquared for the most current deployment map, but received no response. I’ve been unable to find it even in their FCC filings (maybe you can), but I have to believe that if it was something to be proud of, they would be showing it to everyone.

Furthermore, in a huge FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) document release last week by the FCC, documents reveal what LightSquared was planning to charge their wholesale customers (not retail) when customers were out of range of their terrestrial system and forced to use LightSquared’s satellite for wireless broadband. The wholesale cost of their satellite broadband service was to be $10 per megabyte (not gigabyte), an astonishingly high price for a company that’s been touting affordable, nationwide wireless broadband Internet service. If you want to read for yourself, click here. You can read about LightSquared’s objections to the FOIA document release here.

LightSquared bankruptcy looming?

Of course, after the NTIA issued its report and conclusions this week, there were many rumors that LightSquared would soon declare bankruptcy. In response, LightSquared financier Phil Falcone told Reuters “It is clearly not on our table” and that “There are other ways around this.”

Other rumors include a proposed spectrum swap that GPS World reported two weeks ago. Although it’s tough to rule out anything, this would be quite a stretch, especially for the spectrum mentioned in the GPS World article (1515-1525 MHz) since it’s still close enough to LightSquared’s 10L signal (1526-1536 MHz) that failed to pass the NTIA’s interference testing that it would likely require another round of GPS interference testing. Furthermore, one of the NTIA’s sticking points was the potential interference from LightSquared’s mobile devices, which operate (uplink) in the 1626.5-1660.5 Mhz range, so that would need to be addressed as well.

The beginning of a new era of GPS/GNSS technology.

Included in the NTIA report was a recommendation that, with time, GPS receivers could be redesigned in order to accomodate LightSquared’s 10L signal.

NTIA also reported that during the January 13 Excom (Position, Navigation, Timing Executive Committee) meeting, it was agreed that “federal agencies will move forward this year to develop and establish new GPS spectrum interference standards that will help inform future proposals for non-space commercial uses in the bands adjacent to the GPS signals and ensure that any such proposals are implemented without affecting existing and evolving uses of space-based PNT services vital to economic, public safety, scientific, and national security needs.”

In summary, GPS/GNSS receiver designs will change in the coming years and move towards more efficient use of spectrum. To me, a critical statement in the NTIA letter to the FCC is “without affecting existing and evolving,” meaning that not only should GPS be considered but also GPS-like systems from other countries such as Russia’s GLONASS, Europe’s Galileo, and other evolving satellite navigation systems and applications.

For the latest news, join me next Monday on the ACSM Radio Hour (Monday, February 20)

The LightSquared situation is still very fluid. There seems to be a new twist almost daily.

This past Monday, I was a guest on ACSM’s (American Congress on Surveying and Mapping) Radio Hour with Gavin Schrock and Laurence Socci, hosted by ACSM’s Curt Sumner. You can listen to a recording of the show here.

Due to the significant events that occured this week, I’m returning as a guest either next Monday or the following along with Gavin Schrock to discuss the latest developments. You can join us here at 8 a.m. Pacific/11 a.m. Eastern U.S. time on either day, or the show will be recorded and available for you to listen to at a later date.

Thanks, and see you next week.

Follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/GPSGIS_Eric

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GPS World staff

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