NTIA Thumbs Down LightSquared; FCC Concurs

February 15, 2012  - By

“We conclude that LightSquared’s proposed mobile broadband network will impact GPS services and that there is no practical way to mitigate the potential interference at this time.” These words from Lawrence Strickling (right), U.S. assistant secretary for communications and information and head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), appear to signal the end of LightSquared’s run.

Strickling’s letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Julius Genachowski appeared in public on February 14. Later that same day, FCC spokesperson Tammy Sun released a statement from that agency that “the Commission will not lift the prohibition on LightSquared,” and that it plans to “vacate the Conditional Waiver Order, and suspend indefinitely LightSquared’s Ancillary Terrestrial Component authority.”

Together, the NTIA and the FCC share responsibility for controlling U.S. radio spectrum use and making band allocations. The FCC supposedly has final authority in these matters, although the NTIA, representing government interests, may swing the bigger cat in the room. LightSquared’s inability to satisfy the requirements of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), coupled with unremitting frowning and glowering from the Department of Defense, may have been the deciding factors — more so than the uproar among most GPS manufacturers. The FAA and the U.S. military, two key government entities with widely fielded GPS equipment and applications, constituted the backbone that the NTIA finally showed, although the military has been, with one notable exception, silent on the issue, and indeed is not mentioned in the NTIA letter.

Strickling’s eight-page NTIA letter recaps the background of our story, with a July 6, 2011 early climax: “The test results demonstrated that LightSquared’s then-panned deployment of terrestrial operations posed a significant potential for harmful interference to GPS services.” He continues with the history of the further NTIA testing of cellular GPS receivers, joint continued analysis by FAA and LightSquared of impact on aviation receivers, and testing of general/personal navigation GPS receivers by the Executive Steering Group of the Interagency National Executive Committee for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (EXCOM).

Strickling quotes a January 13 letter to him from Ashton Carter, U.S. deputy secretary for defense, and John Porcari, deputy secretary for transportation:

“It is the unanimous conclusion of the test findings by the EXCOM agencies that both LighSquared’s original and modified plans for its proposed mobile network would cause harmful interference to many GPS receivers. Additionally, an analysis by the FAA has concluded that the LighSquared proposals are not compatible with severl GPS-dependent aircraft safety-of-flight systems. Based upon this testing and analysis, there appear to be no practical solutions or mitigations that would permit the LightSquared broadband service, as prosposed, to operate in the next few months or years without significantly interfering with GPS. As a result, no additional testing is warranted at this time.”

But wait, we’re not done yet. Strickling calls for GPS receiver standards to be developed, citing the EXCOM’s decision 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.”

The FCC, in its concurrence statement to the NTIA letter, actually begins by reciting the mantras of “economic growth, job creation, and to promote competition . . . freeing up spectrum for mobile broadband,” and only graduallyl works its way around to its decision. This signals an ongoing, solid commitment to make further sallies in this area.

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