LightSquared nears deadline with FCC over GPS interference

With its final report deadline with the U.S. Global Position System Industry Council (USGIC) fast approaching, and rumored talks with both Sprint and AT&T ongoing, LightSquared’s (Reston, Va.) plans of a 4G-LTE nationwide wireless broadband service could sink or swim in the upcoming months.

LightSquared, a wholesale-only integrated 4G-LTE wireless broadband and satellite network, is looking to build a nationwide wireless broadband service that covers 92% of the country by 2015. Yet, to build this network LightSquared has to come to an agreement with the USGIC over interference its signals may cause with those from the Global Position System (GPS).

As of now, LightSquared is planning to broadcast its 4G terrestrial network in the L-Band frequencies of 1525 Mhz-1559Mhz, while GPS broadcasts in the adjacent L-Band frequencies of 1559 Mhz-1610Mhz. According to Michael Swiek, executive director of USGIC, the GPS industry worries that LightSquared’s high power terrestrial frequencies will overwhelm the low power frequencies put out by the GPS satellites.

“It is very difficult to have a high powered signal next to a low power signal in the same spectrum,” said Swiek “It’s just the laws of physics.”

LightSquared and the USGIC have been working together over the past several months testing the potential for interference. A formal report is due to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on June 15.

“We want the facts and science to speak for themselves,” said Swiek.

According to Frank Boulben, chief marketing officer at LightSquared, less than 20% of LightSquared’s spectrum may cause interference. He could not divulge further information until the final report was presented to the FCC.

But Boulben goes on to say that back in 2003 there was a full agreement made between LightSquared (previously MSV and then SkyTerra) and the USGIC that included both sides implementing filters so that no interference was present. According to Boulben, LightSquared implemented those filters, while not all GPS manufactures have done so, even eight years after the agreement was made.

According to GPS industry technical sources this statement may not be entirely accurate, because the agreement was meant to be a limited gap filler measure.

Originally, LightSquared was only licensed for satellite broadcast, but the FCC granted a waiver back in January allowing LightSquared to offer dual-mode or terrestrial-only devices. Since then the USGIC and LightSquared have been working together to test for interference.

According to Chairman of the FCC, Julius Genachowski, in his letter to Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), “the Commission will not permit LightSquared to begin commercial service without first resolving the Commission’s concerns.”

While these concerns of the FCC and other organizations have kept LightSquared from running its network, it hasn’t kept them from talking with large service providers

In the last couple of weeks there have been alleged talks between LightSquared and Sprint, as well as LightSquared and AT&T. These talks do not involve LightSquared leasing AT&T and Sprint its network, but the other way around.

According to a recent Reuters article, Sprint would allow LightSquared to rent space on its network for $2 billion a year. The deal, which has not yet been made public, means that LightSquared would be renting additional capacity to a network that is not allowed to be commercially used yet. A LightSquared spokesperson refused to comment on the matter.

Despite all the setbacks, LigthSquared has already signed contracts with companies such as Best Buy, Cellular South, Leap and SI Wireless. According to Boulben over 15 more contracts are under negotiation.

Once the final report is received the FCC and National Telecommunication & Information Administration (NTIA) will review it and hold a public comment period before making a decision.

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