FCC’s approval of Ligado 5G network draws criticism from DoD, praise from State Dept. 

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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said Ligado's network must not interfere with GPS or other incumbent users of the L-band spectrum.

WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission on April 20 announced it approved Ligado’s application to deploy a nationwide network to provide 5G and internet-of-things services. The unanimous vote came despite strong objections from the Defense Department and other federal agencies that contend Ligado’s network will cause disruptions to the Global Positioning System.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the commission is giving Ligado the go-ahead on condition that it not interfere with GPS or any other incumbent users of the L-band spectrum that will be licensed to the company.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Twitter that DoD “continues to support domestic 5G options, but not at the risk of crippling our GPS networks. Nearly a dozen other federal agencies have joined us in opposing this proposal.”

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cheered the FCC decision  as “vital to our national security and will help ensure that the United States is the global leader in advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things, edge computing, and the next generation of telemedicine.” Accelerating the deployment of 5G, Pompeo said in a statement, is “essential to our country’s growth and global economic security.”

Ligado’s low-power terrestrial network will be designed so it’s not harmful to GPS, Pai said. Compared to an earlier proposal, it reduced by 99.3% the signal power levels and inserted a 23-megahertz guard band separating Ligado signals from those used by GPS satellites. “This promotes more efficient and effective use of our nation’s spectrum resources and ensure that adjacent band operations, including the Global Positioning System, are protected,” Pai said in a statement April 20.

While the FCC vote was bipartisan, government agencies and Congress are divided on the commission’s decision to release L-band spectrum that is adjacent to GPS. The Defense, Commerce and Transportation Departments are against it, as are the leaders of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees.

The FCC in a news release on Monday published statements of support from Pompeo, Attorney General William Barr, several lawmakers such as Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), and industry groups.

Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Robert Carver said April 20 that DoD stands by its April 17 statement issued in advance of the FCC order. “DoD and almost a dozen other federal agencies are strongly opposed to the Ligado proposal and have asked for its denial,” said Carver.

The executive director of the GPS Innovation Alliance J. David Grossman said he is “deeply disappointed” by the FCC’s decision. The commission “appears to ignore the well-documented views of the expert agencies charged with preserving the integrity of GPS, specifically on the critical issue of what constitutes harmful interference to users of Global Navigation Satellite Systems,” he said in a statement.