FCC extends LightSquared deadline

Reuters

U.S. regulators granted Harbinger Capital-backed LightSquared (Reston, Va.) a two week extension on its report explaining GPS interference issues related to a high-speed wireless network it wants to build, the company said on Wednesday.

Before it can go ahead with its proposed network, LightSquared must show the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that it can avoid interference with GPS devices, which use wireless airwaves next to those licensed to LightSquared.

LightSquared, which was formed by hedge fund manager Philip Falcone, was due to file a related report with the cooperation of other companies in the GPS and cellular industries June 15. The company instead asked the FCC for an extension until July 1 because all the information required for the report had not yet been submitted.

"We don't have all the data. This is a really complex thing and we want to make sure we get it right," said LightSquared spokesman Chris Stern, noting that eight different working groups were involved in putting the report together.

"Based on preliminary test results, LightSquared determined that additional testing, beyond what had been planned initially, including alternative frequency plans to support its network roll-out, was necessary to permit a proper evaluation," Jeffrey Carlisle, executive vice president, regulatory affairs & public policy, LightSquared, said in a letter to the FCC.

"That testing has been performed, and it has set back the timetable, particularly in some sub-teams in which data is still being processed and analyzed," Carlisle said in the request made to FCC Secretary Marlene Dortch.

INTERFERENCE CONCERNS

Companies such as Deere & Co and General Motors OnStar unit have said their tests showed interference problems. Trimble Navigation is another GPS technology company that has spoken out about interference problems.

General Motors' OnStar unit on Tuesday wrote to the FCC asking it to carry out a more in-depth review of the system as its tests showed LightSquared systems could interfere with OnStar gear used to notify emergency services of car crashes.

This followed a report last week from a government group, the National PNT Systems Engineering Forum (NPEF) that said all GPS receiver applications would be affected. That report also said it had not identified a way to solve the problem.

These statements, along with other complaints, including Deere's finding of "severe interference", should lead to a report that shows interference is a problem, according to Trimble, which opposes the proposed LightSquared network.
The only remaining argument is whether there is a feasible technology fix, Trimble's general counsel Jim Kirkland said in an interview.

"All these tests that have gone on in the last several months have shown substantial interference with GPS," he said.

Kirkland said he had seen no proof so far that there was a feasible technology solution to the interference and said the best outcome would be for LightSquared to use different wireless airwaves.

"LightSquared will make optimistic predictions about the possibility of a technical fix, but they'll only be predictions," he said. "The evidence is in. LightSquared can't operate in this band, and the FCC should find alternative spectrum for them."

Beyond interference concerns, LightSquared would need to raise billions more dollars in funding to complete the network.

On Wednesday a group of 30+ parties filed an open letter to the FCC in Support of LightSquared. The letter was signed by companies such as Vonage and DragonWave.

In the letter to the FCC it said, “The GPS-LightSquared debate has been sadly positioned as a “win-lose” dilemma, suggesting a winter-take-all outcome- that in order for one technology to exist, the other much lose. That is unfortunate and shortsighted.” The letter goes on to say, “While it is likely there will be interference issues that will need to be solved, the parties and the FCC must have the room to develop a "win-win" solution for America.”

(Reporting by Sinead Carew; Additional writing by Dhanya Skariachan, Editing by Chelsea Emery and Lisa Shumaker)

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