AfterDawn: Tech news

LightSquared gives up on testing and demands FCC approval for their 4G network

Written by Rich Fiscus (Google+) @ 21 Dec 2011 3:50 User comments (6)

LightSquared gives up on testing and demands FCC approval for their 4G network LightSquared, a company hoping to build a wholesale mobile network with 4G data capabilities, has apparently given up on approval from the NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration) and is trying to force the FCC to allow them to launch their service.
LightSquared's problems stem from a decision to use frequencies originally licensed for satellite communication for a terrestrial network. Because of the significantly higher power used for terrestrial communications, this results in interference with existing GPS signals on adjacent frequencies.

Earlier this year LightSquared's network was approved by the FCC, but that approval was conditional. Among the FCC's conditions was that LightSquared satisfy the NTIA that potential GPS problems were solved. The NTIA has conducted two rounds of testing, and so far LightSquared's network has failed both, meaning they have not met the FCC's conditions.

Apparently abandoning the hope of getting NTIA approval, LightSquared has now petitioned the FCC asking for unconditional approval on the grounds the GPS industry demands they pay for modifications to existing equipment. These modifications were designed at LightSquared's request, and are apparently the only solution they have been able to identify.

As they have done repeatedly over the last few months, LightSquared makes a number of misleading statements in their petition to the FCC which make it appear the GPS industry knew this problem was coming for years, but chose to manufacture equipment which doesn't work with LightSquared's signal. Specifically, they allege [full filing below]:

the commercial GPS industry is mistaken that LightSquared must bear the financial burden resulting from the failure of the commercial GPS industry, for almost a decade, to account for the deployment of LightSquared?s network in the design and manufacture of commercial GPS receivers.


In fact it was only this year that LightSquared was given approval to operate a terrestrial network on the scale they are now contemplating. A decade prior a very different plan was approved by the FCC which would have allowed them to operate ancillary (ATC) terrestrial towers for dual band satellite phones. These towers would have been used only to extend their signal to areas where satellite coverage was problematic.

In fact, when the FCC approved LightSquared's current plan earlier this year, it required a waiver because it doesn't conform to the regulations for ancillary transmissions on the satellite band. In their finding, the FCC wrote [full order below]:

we agree with AT&T, CTIA, the U.S. GPS Industry Council, and Verizon Wireless and disagree with LightSquared, Free Press, et al., and T-Mobile, and find that LightSquared?s wholesale customers cannot offer terrestrial-only service to their subscribers without violating LightSquared?s obligations under the rules. We turn now to whether to grant LightSquared a waiver of the integrated service rule.


Additionally, while the GPS industry certainly raised objections to LightSquared's plan, it is the NTIA, a government agency, whose approval was required by the FCC as a condition of that waiver:

ILightSquared may commence offering commercial service on its MSS L-band frequencies under the authority granted herein only upon the completion of the process for addressing interference concerns relating to GPS, as set forth in paragraphs 41-43 of this Order.


Those paragraphs say:

Commission staff will work with NTIA, LightSquared, and the GPS community, including appropriate Federal agencies, to establish a working group to fully study the potential for overload interference to GPS devices and to identify any measures necessary to prevent harmful interference to GPS. As a condition of granting this waiver, the process described below addressing the interference concerns regarding GPS must be completed to the Commission?s satisfaction before LightSquared commences offering commercial service pursuant to this waiver on its L-band MSS frequencies.


and:

The process will be complete once the Commission, after consultation with NTIA, concludes that the harmful interference concerns have been resolved and sends a letter to LightSquared stating that the process is complete.


In short, the FCC has no obligation to approve LightSquared's plan at all. They are granting an exception to the rules, and therefore have a great deal of latitude in setting the conditions for approval.

From a practical point of view. It doesn't really matter whether the GPS industry is at fault, or whether users of GPS units which are incompatible with LightSquared's network are entitled to protection under the law. A network which interferes with the GPS units used in aviation, agriculture, GIS, and many other applications simply isn't going to be allowed to operate.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of this whole mess is that the basic reason for the FCC's conditional approval is sound. There seems to be no question the US needs more mobile competition, and a national wholesale network with 4G service would enable that in a unique way.

In many ways it would level the playing field by making it possible for regional carriers to offer service comparable to giants like AT&T and Verizon. At the same time, if that competition comes at the expense of working GPS, is it really worth the cost?

LightSquared Conditional FCC Waiver - April 2011


LightSquared Demands FCC Approval For Their 4G Network

Previous Next  

6 user comments

121.12.2011 4:28

When I first heard of LightSquared it sounded like a good idea to have more 4G competition...but they are just the dirtiest bastards...and you know they would just do pricefixing if they were ever allowed to operate anyway.



221.12.2011 11:23

hhmmm....I seem to recall pilots, farmers, drivers, ship captains, and everyone else on the planet being able to function in their daily lives without GPS, for years. In some of these cases, hundreds, and/or, thousands of years. Stop being lazy and learn to read maps people. Pretty soon someone will invent a toilet that comes to you.

321.12.2011 12:31

I need my GPS...my sense of navigation is absolutely horrible, and God knows I can't multitask. If this were to interfere with my receiving of a GPS signal, I would be enraged.

421.12.2011 13:16

I'm interested in why you don't like them.
Myself I'm surprised they waited this long to do this. They have given GPS ample notice.
It is GPS which is infringing on LIGHTSQUARED'S spectrum. They bought and paid for it.
They've tried to work with GPS. They've offered solutions.

So now they want to get their money's worth.
I'm thinking this is a move to get a different block of bandwidth. Otherwise they would be completely screwed through no fault of their own.

But, I have an open mind. Why do they suck?


Oh, Im sorry... Did the middle of my sentence interrupt the beginning of yours?

59.1.2012 0:10

Originally posted by baxter00:
hhmmm....I seem to recall pilots, farmers, drivers, ship captains, and everyone else on the planet being able to function in their daily lives without GPS, for years.
Farmers and pilots use an enhanced form of GPS (which does use signals that intrude into Lightsquared's spectrum) to get precision down to fractions of a foot. Farmers use this precision down to inches to guide their farm equipment -- which is impossible with printed maps. This allows them to save big money on not overlapping fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides as they go down each row. It allows them to accurately plant seeds. The money they save this way is huge.

Pilots need the super-accuracy for the next generation of airport ground systems, which will allow planes to land and take-off much closer together. This will save all kinds of money and time. Once again, this is not something that can be done with printed maps.
This message has been edited since its posting. Latest edit was made on 09 Jan 2012 @ 0:11

69.1.2012 0:20

Originally posted by ThePastor:
I'm interested in why you don't like them.
Myself I'm surprised they waited this long to do this. They have given GPS ample notice.
It is GPS which is infringing on LIGHTSQUARED'S spectrum. They bought and paid for it.
They've tried to work with GPS. They've offered solutions.
Lightsquared obtained this spectrum back around 2004 when they bought another company which owned the rights. At that time they knew GPS was already intruding into their spectrum. Yet they didn't make an issue of it nor do anything to resolve the issue until just the last couple of years when they wanted final approval.

Lightsqared's problems began because they wanted to use this spectrum with a much more powerful terrestrial system. This was also their plans back in 2004, and outside the license to the spectrum.

So the real question is why Lightsqared waited so long to resolve this issue. If they were an honest company they would have had a plan to address it back in 2004 when they acquired the spectrum. If they had just stuck to satellite transmissions they would have had a real case and could have forced the GPS industry to retrofit receivers. But instead they are trying end-runs such as currying favor with politicians, making a big public stink, and generally confusing the issue.

Comments have been disabled for this article.

News archive