LightSquared Claims Bias in GPS Interference Testing

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WASHINGTON — LightSquared is charging “bias and inappropriate collusion” following the latest round of U.S. government testing that showed the company’s revised operating plan for its hybrid satellite-terrestrial broadband network serving North America will cause harmful interference to GPS applications.

Reston, Va.-based LightSquared, backed by hedge fund billionaire Philip Falcone, also said it filed a complaint with NASA’s inspector general Jan. 12 claiming the process by which the government evaluated its network was compromised by a conflict of interest. One of the government’s key advisers on the matter, the company said, is a board member of Trimble, a major manufacturer of the GPS receiver equipment affected by the interference issue.

In a Jan. 13 press release, LightSquared urged the U.S. Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration to “retake the lead” in government testing of filters that the company says will solve the interference problem. The press release followed official correspondence between senior U.S. government officials saying “there appear to be no practical solutions” to the GPS interference problem and that no further testing is warranted.

The Jan. 13 letter, written by Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter and Deputy Secretary of Transportation John D. Porcari, co-chairs of the U.S. National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) Executive Committee (EXCOM), was addressed to Lawrence E. Strickling, assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information. The EXCOM consists of nine U.S. federal agency stakeholders in GPS, a U.S. Air Force satellite constellation whose signals are used for a wide array of military and civilian applications.

“It is the unanimous conclusion of the test findings by the National Space-Based PNT EXCOM Agencies that both LightSquared’s original and modified plans for its proposed mobile network would cause harmful interference to many GPS receivers,” the letter said. “Additionally, an analysis by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has concluded that the LightSquared proposals are not compatible with several GPS-dependent aircraft safety-of-flight systems.”

LightSquared has invested some $3 billion in its proposed L-band system, launching one large satellite and planning a network of some 50,000 ground-based repeaters to serve areas where satellite signals are obstructed. The company in January 2011 was given U.S. Federal Communications Commission approval to offer a terrestrial-only version of its service provided it could demonstrate there was no resulting interference to GPS applications.

EXCOM testing that wrapped up in late June concluded that the LightSquared service would cause unacceptable interference to both military and civil GPS applications, prompting the company to propose a new operating scheme in which it would broadcast at lower power levels using its allocated frequencies located furthest away from the GPS bands. The revised operating plan was the subject of the latest round of testing.

In its press release, LightSquared, which has long maintained that the interference is the result of poorly designed GPS receiver equipment that looks into the company’s allocated frequencies, said the latest testing lacked both fairness and transparency. The EXCOM and associated PNT Advisory Board, LightSquared said, reneged on a commitment to test receiver filters the company says solve the problem and effectively put GPS industry interests ahead of their public obligations.

“Under an agreement worked out directly between representatives of Trimble — the same company that has paid for a year-long lobbying campaign against LightSquared’s network — LightSquared was specifically excluded from the testing process,” the press release said. “The devices selected as part of the most recent round of testing include numerous obsolete and off-market GPS receivers that nearly guaranteed failure. Power levels used for testing were 32 times that of real-world conditions further stacking the deck in favor of GPS industry interests.”

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Trimble is a founding member of the Coalition to Save Our GPS, which in the last year has mounted an intensive lobbying and public awareness campaign against LightSquared’s plans.

LightSquared noted in its press release that Brad Parkinson, vice chairman of the PNT Advisory Board, is a director at Trimble. The company said it filed a complaint with NASA’s Office of the Inspector General concerning “conflicts of interest” on the PNT Advisory Board.

Dale Leibach, a spokesman for the Coalition to Save Our GPS, said LightSquared was given every possible opportunity to demonstrate its network’s compatibility with GPS and failed at every turn. “No credible, independent expert or organization has come forward to support LightSquared’s claims of non-interference to millions of existing GPS devices,” he said in a Jan. 13 statement.

Leibach also accused LightSquared of mounting a disinformation campaign to discredit the evaluation process and the participants. “These shrill, irresponsible attacks are reprehensible, and are obvious acts of desperation,” he said. “The technical evidence speaks for itself, and no individual, company or government body can legitimately be blamed for the clear defects of LightSquared’s ill-conceived proposal or the failure of that proposal to pass an extensive, fact-based review process.”

With no further testing planned, LightSquared’s future prospects and options are unclear.

Also unclear is what the latest finding means for L-band mobile satellite operator Inmarsat of London, which has been receiving hefty payments from LightSquared to modify its North American operations to make room for the LightSquared service.

Under an agreement announced in August 2010, LightSquared was to pay Inmarsat $337.5 million over an 18-month period and potentially $115 million a year thereafter. Inmarsat in recent quarters has booked revenue from the LightSquared payments.

Inmarsat officials could not be reached for comment Jan. 16.

 

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