GPS Device Makers Fight Back Against LightSquared

The fight between LightSquared and the GPS industry is heating up again. Last week, LightSquared sent a letter to the FCC pinning the blame for the interference issues on GPS device makers for failing to follow appropriate standards in designing their receivers. The GPS device makers fired back  in a filing with the Federal Communications Commission last Monday, claiming they are not responsible for interference problems between their devices and LightSquared’s planned network.

LightSquared is accusing the GPS industry of failing to follow US Department of Defense (DoD) GPS filtering standards, and the GPS industry saying in return that LightSquared clearly doesn’t understand the technology it is trying to sell.

LightSquared is proposing to create a nationwide satellite-based voice and Internet data service. It received conditional approval to do so from the FCC in January as long as the company could show that its operations wouldn’t interfere with existing GPS systems, a fear expressed by GPS device manufacturers such as Garmin (NASDAQ: GRMN) and TomTom.

Tests completed this spring demonstrated that GPS systems would indeed be interfered with by LightSquared proposed operations. LightSquared said in June not to worry, though, since it had developed a technical solution to the interference problem.

The GPS industry, or more specifically, the US GPS Industry Council (USGIC), fired back saying that LightSquared doesn’t know what it is talking about. According to this The Hill blog post, the USGIC told the FCC in a letter (PDF) that:

“LightSquared is wrong, and its arguments reflect its fundamental lack of technical understanding of GPS and the profound technical difference between how communication and satellite navigation signals operate and are received…”

LightSquared is fighting back and asked the FCC why it needs to change its operations when the GPS interference problem clearly resides with an irresponsible GPS industry that is only interested in “squatting for free on someone else’s licensed spectrum.”

LightSquared filed a statement (PDF) with the FCC claiming that:

“The GPS industry’s failure to comply with the Department of Defense’s (DoD) filtering standards(PDF) is the root cause of potential interference issues involving LightSquared’s proposed broadband wireless network… Had the GPS industry complied with DoD’s recommended filtering standards for GPS receivers, there would be no issue with LightSquared’s operations in the lower portion of its downlink band…”

“The DoD standard, in effect, grants GPS a 4 MHz ‘guard band.’ Now, however, the GPS manufacturers are rejecting LightSquared’s offer of a 23 MHz guard band that would be created by LightSquared’s decision to begin its terrestrial operations in the lower half of the downlink band.”

It is unclear how or when the FCC plans to make a decision. LightSquared has been signing up communication partners as quickly as possible, in part to put pressure on the FCC that any action to deny LightSquared its operating license would place the Commissioners in the position of being seen as “killing new jobs,” which is political poison at the moment.

On the other hand, many GPS users like those in aviation, defense, automotive and farming community are saying that granting LightSquared a license to operate would cause irreparable harm to their industries, and thus potentially kill existing jobs.

Adding another political/technical dimension to the decision the FCC has to consider is that the European Union has expressed “deep concerns” about LightSquared as well.

Categories: GPS Tracking System News