Scary Times for LightSquared

Carl Weinschenk

These are scary times for the nascent service LightSquared, which has not been faring well in a test of its ability to co-exist with the Global Positioning System. LightSquared is an ambitious project that defines itself as a wholesale-only hybrid Long Term Evolution (LTE)/satellite provider. A good FAQ at the company's site provides details. The company is signing a tremendous number of partners and, according to Wayne Rash over at CTO Edge, recently was approved for operations by the Federal Communications Commission. The press releases detailing the myriad deals also are available at the site.

There are clouds on the horizon, however. Internetserviceproviders.org offers a list of 10 potential issues, in fact. And, according to numerous reports last week - including this one at nextgov - a test of LightSquared and GPS co-existence conducted at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico didn't go well. The story says that the system knocked GPS receivers used by first responders off the air.

The problem is a conflict in frequency use. The National Journal sums it up nicely:

The company's innovative network, partially based on a giant satellite, will operate on spectrum very close to global positioning system (GPS) signals. That has both the GPS industry and defense and public safety officials worried that the broadband network's powerful transmitters could overpower GPS device

So the news, at least at this point, isn't good for LightSquared, which has amassed an impressive array of partnerships, according to Aviation Services Directory:

In the tests, first responders reported inaccuracies and failures with GPS equipment in proximity to the LightSquared towers that persisted even after the 4G signal was turned off. As we reported Monday, LightSquared began live tests from a transmitter in the Nevada desert near Boulder City.

It is too early to count LightSquared out. Projects with a lot of money behind them tend to also have political clout, so close calls could go its way. At this point, a non-expert must wait to see if the problems are as significant as the reports imply and whether corrective measures are possible for a reasonable cost. In other words, assuming the findings are accurate, is the problem a backbreaker or an inconvenience?



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