A GPS 3 satellite rendition. Ligado's spectrum sits near frequencies used by GPS technology. Credit: Lockheed Martin

TAMPA, Fla. — Iridium Communications is redoubling efforts to reverse U.S. regulatory approval for Ligado’s terrestrial wireless plans after Canada rejected the network following GPS interference concerns.

Ligado had sought similar approval from Canada that it secured from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission in 2020 to deploy a 5G network using satellite L-band spectrum, including with restrictions designed to guard against interference.

However, the Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) declined to approve the request May 31 following a public consultation. 

Of the 38 comments ISED’s consultation received, 36 expressed concerns about potential spectrum interference. The Canadian regulator said these concerns came from the aviation industry, GPS hardware manufacturers, communication hardware makers, surveying service providers, communication service providers, and government users.

In a letter to the FCC published June 9 to officially submit ISED’s decision into the U.S. regulator’s records, Iridium regulatory vice president Kara Azocar said Canada’s denial adds more weight to calls to reverse its 2020 decision.

“Three years after adoption of the Ligado Order, the interference risks identified by myriad affected stakeholders not only remain valid, but are now supported by concerns raised by Canadian regulators who have explored the issue as well,” Azocar told the FCC.

The U.S. Defense Department has also objected to Ligado’s 2020 approval amid warnings that the network would disrupt services supporting national security, civil aviation, and other sectors.

In April, Iridium joined 90 other organizations on the third anniversary of the order’s adoption to call on the Biden administration and Congress to reverse Ligado’s FCC approval. 

In its decision, Canada’s ISED said it expects further studies and negotiations would address potential interference, leaving the door open for a future request from Ligado to deploy terrestrial wireless services in the country.

Ligado head of government affairs and public policy Ashley Durmer said that, while the company is disappointed that ISED is seeking additional study, it appreciated the regulator’s conclusion that this would help achieve consensus for its terrestrial wireless ambitions.

“The FCC studied this band extensively for more than a decade and determined that it was ideal for 5G terrestrial services and can coexist with neighboring GPS and SATCOM services,” Durmer said via email.

“We’re confident that, with additional time and technical data, ISED will reach the same conclusions, which underscore that these frequencies, like most spectrum bands, can – and should – be used for multiple uses.”

She said Ligado was not surprised about Iridium’s letter to the FCC, describing it as “yet another effort to peddle a false narrative” around the company. 

“We’ve come to expect nothing less since it’s the same baseless strategy Iridium has used for years to try to keep Ligado out of the market,” Durmer added, “It’s a total waste of policymakers’ time and a distraction from the serious work that’s underway.”

Canadian review

Despite the FCC greenlight, Ligado’s terrestrial deployment has been on ice following a review released in September by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM).

The congressionally-mandated NASEM review found Ligado’s planned deployment would likely interfere with some GPS signals and with Iridium’s space-based communications services.

However, the ruling from Canada’s ISED noted “there continues to be significant divergence of views between stakeholders in the U.S. process, even since the issuance of the FCC’s 2020 Order and Authorization, as well as in Canada based on the comments received.”

About a third of respondents to ISED’s consultation said NASEM’s 78-page report had “pointed out potential discrepancies in the FCC’s 2020 Order and Authorization,” the regulator said.

But according to Ligado, NASEM’s findings supported the FCC’s decision, and showed how the majority of GPS devices would not be affected by its terrestrial network in accordance with U.S. rules.

Although Ligado disagreed with comments from most of the Canadian consultation’s respondents, the company expressed its willingness to the ISED to address their concerns.

In the meantime, Durmer said the company remains focused on providing commercial satellite services directly to consumer smartphones and other devices later this year with Viasat and other partners.

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information...