In its ongoing fight to launch its nationwide LTE service, LightSquared on Wednesday asked the Federal Communications Commission to impose the first-ever standards on GPS device design, claiming such requirements would allow GPS and its 4G network to co-exist peacefully in the satellite bands. While LightSquared would appear to be taking the middle path, the proposal smacks of a political stunt.
Even if the FCC agreed to establish such standards, the rulemaking process and implementing those design requirements would take years, while leaving millions of interference-prone devices in the market that would need to replaced or retrofitted. Meanwhile LightSquared isn’t changing its launch plans and intends to roll out its LTE network this year — if it can get FCC approval.
LightSquared maintains that GPS device makers like Garmin and Trimble Navigation designed their receivers sloppily so that they reach outside of the GPS bands into LightSquared’s frequencies. That’s ultimately the source of the widely reported interference problems navigation and location devices experience when they get to close the carrier’s LTE transmitters. LightSquared correctly points out that the commercial GPS industry has never had to build their devices to particular standards and has, instead, been piggybacking off the government-built and maintained GPS satellite network since its inception.
But GPS and satellite networks co-existed peacefully in the L-band for years since satellite signals are too weak to overpower any GPS receiver listening in on its frequencies. What’s changed is how LightSquared wants to use its satellite spectrum: a high-powered terrestrial LTE transmitter would overwhelm a low-power GPS device in its vicinity, if it weren’t designed to shield out any foreign signals.
LightSquared is right in principle. If the FCC is serious about finding new spectrum for mobile broadband it has to protect license holders. In order to prep the L-band for 4G, the government needs to create and enforce standards on the GPS devices to prevent them from stepping outside of their bands.
But in this case, LightSquared is using principle as cudgel to beat back the commercial GPS lobby so it can deploy its LTE network before it runs out of funding. Drawing attention to receiver design paints the GPS industry as the bad guy and makes LightSquared out to be the victim of its selfishness and neglect. That’s a perception LightSquared would love to amplify as Congress focuses its attention on the controversy.
Interference in the L-band is a big issue that will take years to fix. On the one hand, LightSquared is making the perfectly reasonable argument that the problem can be solved through government-imposed standards. But in the next breath, it seems to be denying that the problem exists at all, demanding permission to launch its network regardless of what chaos ensues with GPS. The would-be carrier probably doesn’t care one whit if such standards are ever adopted. In fact, LightSquared is asking the FCC rule that GPS receivers aren’t entitled to protection from interference, which would make standards moot. LightSquared just wants to get its network built as quickly as and by any means possible.
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