The System: LightSquared Interference with GPS

July 1, 2011  - By

And the Beat Goes on

Developments in the LightSquared saga came fast and furious in June; highlights are listed below and briefly recapped in the adjacent news story. It will be dated by the time you receive this issue, as it went to press three weeks prior.

For current events, see Top Story and Latest News, and the full versions of stories abridged here. The Navigate, Survey Scene, and GNSS Design & Test e-newsletters, free at, will keep you up to date.

In chronological order, from late May to late June:

  • LightSquared Las Vegas Test Towers Flawed, FCC Filing Shows
  • House Bill Ensures FCC Takes No Action that Would Harm Military Use of GPS
  • Test Data Shows LightSquared Slams Medium, High-Precision GPS Receivers
  • PNT Advisory Board Finds Interference, Says Move It
  • LightSquared, FCC Rebuttals Distort Record
  • NPEF Report on Military Receivers Calls for FCC Recision
  • LightSquared Asks for, Receives Extension on Final Interference Report
  • Claims of LightSquared Solution Discounted
  • Air Transport Association Tells Congress to Protect GPS
  • Interference with GPS Poses Major Threat to U.S. Economy
  • LightSquared Applies to International Telecommunications Union for Global Signal

Flawed Test Towers

Results from a key round of field tests conducted near Las Vegas, Nevada, may show overly optimistic results regarding the effects of the LightSquared terrestrial signal on GPS receivers. According to a LightSquared addendum filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) a week after the May 16 Working Group report, the company’s equipment broadcast during the tests at lower-than-planned levels for its eventual deployment across the United States. Further, LightSquared may not currently be prepared or equipped to broadcast according to the terms of its business plan or its conditional waiver.

LightSquared does not appear to have developed the full software suite nor possess the full equipment to implement the plan the company says has been in preparation for many years. Critical testing was conducted under conditions that do not truly replicate what may be the case should the FCC allow the plan to go forward.

House Bills Target the Waiver

On May 27, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill stating that the FCC shall not provide final authorization for LightSquared operations until Defense Department concerns about GPS interference have been resolved. The bill then went to the U.S. Senate for its action.

On June 23, the House Appropriations Committee approved action that would stop the FCC from expending any funds related to the LightSquared conditional waiver until all concerns have been resolved about interference with GPS. The amendment passed in a unanimous voice vote by the full committee, underscoring growing congressional concern about harm to GPS.

The House actions and a letter to the FCC signed by 32 U.S. senators may presage a showdown over the issue between Congress and the president, who has promised increased broadband access. A 4G wireless network providing this access could be facilitated by LightSquared sales of service via its tower transmitters to wireless carriers. LightSquared has already signed a $20 billion, 15-year deal with Sprint.

Tests Slam High-Precision Receivers

Data from Las Vegas field tests show that wide-bandwidth, high-precision GPS receivers started feeling the effects of the LightSquared transmission about 1,800 meters from the tower. Medium-bandwidth high-precision GPS receivers started feeling the effects of the LightSquared transmission at about 1,200 meters from the tower. In each case, there was about a 200-meter buffer from when the GPS receivers started to feel the effects of the LightSquared transmission to the GPS receiver being jammed, at 1,600 meters and 1,000 meters respectively.

GPS World has received further details of the tests but has not been authorized to publish them yet.

Deere & Company, a major provider of precision agriculture equipment and services, notified the FCC on May 26 of substantial interference with its GPS receivers by the LightSquared signal. Deere receivers registered impact of and interference by the LightSquared signal as far away as 22 miles from a transmitter. Further, the company has found no practicable technical solution to the problem.

PNT Advisory Board: Move ATC

At its June 9–10 meeting, the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) Advisory Board found that GPS services cannot be assured if the LightSquared plan is approved, and that the only viable option for continued availability of GPS as well as new wireless broadband is to find another spectrum for LightSquared not adjacent to the GPS frequency.

The formal recommendation reads: “The provision of GPS services cannot be assured if the LightSquared proposal for satellite and terrestrial broadband provision using the MSS L-Band receives final approval.

“The only reasonable and viable option to continue ubiquitous availability of GPS and the provision of a new 4G wireless broadband capability would be for the FCC to assign an alternate frequency spectrum to LightSquared that has little or no probability of affecting the delivery or utilization of GPS/GNSS services.”

During the discussion, one advisory board member, a former goveronor of the state of Wyoming, told presenter Jeff Carlisle of LightSquared, “Your definition of mitigation seems more tied to a legal argument than a common-sense argument.”

Rebuttals Distort Record

Claims by LightSquared’s Carlisle and FCC chair Julius Genachowski, that the GPS industry knew long ago about LightSquared’s plan for powerful terrestrial transmitters, contradict the truth. Examination of FCC filings show that the GPS industry knew about and agreed to a plan by a previous ownership of the company, for a different purpose, with a different business concept, and employing a completely different technological approach, one that would not have harmed GPS transmissions and disabled GPS users the way the current LightSquared plan does.

The terrestrial broadband operations first unveiled in November 2010 cannot be described as ancillary to the purpose for which Lightsquared predecessors Motient, MSV, and SkyTerra received their spectrum and licenses — that is, to provide a service that was primarily a mobile satellite service. The November letter to the FCC described a new business model that turns the original concept on its head. LightSquared for the first time revealed plans to build a “nationwide network of 40,000 terrestrial base stations,” and stated that “the capacity of its fully deployed terrestrial network across all base stations will be tens of thousands of times the capacity of either of [its] satellites.”

The deviations from established policy required to accommodate LightSquared’s new business model are not technicalities. They represent a fundamental change to a complex and interrelated set of rules that were carefully designed to protect GPS users from interference.

The predecessor companies had to protect their own primary satellite operations from interference. The protection that their own satellite operations required was also sufficient — at that time — to protect GPS receivers. The terrestrial network and powerful signal LightSquared now proposes bear no resemblance to the operations the FCC authorized in 2003.

Military Report Calls for FCC Retreat

The National PNT Engineering Forum concluded after testing classified and GPS receivers under LightSquared terrestrial transmission conditions: “Significant concerns remain that operation of an ATC integrated service as originally envisioned by the FCC cannot successfully coexist with GPS.”

The NPEF report calls for rescinding the FCC waiver for LightSquared terrestrial transmissions, conducting more thorough studies on impacts, and revisiting the 2003–2010 authorizations. The group tested a variety of military receivers under classified categorization, also known as “government receivers.”

Final Report Withheld

At the last minute of a June 15 deadline for the final Working Group report on interference, LightSquared asked for a two-week extension. Federal regulators granted the request, and the final report is now due on July 1.

A spokesperson for the Coalition to Save Our GPS revealed that “The Working Group results show devastating interference to GPS and no proven method of mitigation. Delay will not change these results. These results are the same results the FCC had had before it granted the waiver.”

Some Solution. Three days after requesting the delay, LightSquared announced it had solved the problem, by proposing to broadcast only from the lower end of its permitted spectrum band. GPS experts countered that this would still disable the functioning of high-precision receivers.

Air Transport Opposes Waiver

The Air Transport Association and the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association told Congress that the only acceptable mitigation is for LightSquared’s operations to be moved outside of the L-band and away from GPS. “With so much of the early evidence showing that LightSquared’s proposed network would potentially endanger nearly every flight operating in U.S. airspace, it seems evident that no further development of this system can be allowed.”

Going Global

LightSquared has filed documents relative to the International Telecommunications Union, signaling intent to use its entire band at the full authorized power. The company’s goal appears to be to work internationally, circumventing U.S. regulation, to obtain permits to broadcast a terrestrial signal globally.

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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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