Startup LightSquared files with FCC, gets banned because of GPS interference

October 1, 2012
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    LightSquared, the company that aims to be the United States’ 5th nationwide wireless carrier, is yet again facing off with the government over proposed engineering solutions that interfere with GPS signals. The government has said it will do everything in its power to bar the network from competing on US territory.

    This comes about because the government uses GPS; the military and the aviation industry to guide airplanes and missiles. This, of course, is in addition to consumer navigation devices which are used nationwide. What LightSquared proposes to do is take one 5MHz band that it already uses for its satellite service (at 1670-1675MHz) and combine that with the next band up (1675-1680MHz), which is also used for federal purposes including NOAA weather balloons.

    But the opposition doesn’t stop there. LightSquared wants to sell wireless on a wholesale basis; this could potentially upset the apple cart and add many more rivals to the big 4: Big Red, Sprint, AT&T, and T-mobile. By doing so, LS thinks it can offer better service with LTE, while delivering value at a lower cost. In January 2011, the FCC did give LightSquared conditional approval to build a land-based mobile data network using LTE. The approval said LightSquared could sell the cellular service without a satellite component, which opened up much bigger market opportunities for the company.

    The bottom line is this: the FCC says its hands are tied. “There is no practical way to mitigate potential interference at this time.” said Tammy Sun, a spokeswoman for the FCC. LightSquared disagrees, vehemently. “The NTIA’s recommendation relied on the flawed conclusions … about LightSquared’s potential impact on GPS, says a company spokeswoman.

    Jeff Carlisle, head of LightSquared’s regulatory affairs, wrote in a blog post this week:

    “GPS in America has become ‘too big to fail… Like Wall Street, the manufacturers of GPS devices have spent years profiting off of vulnerable technology and are now seeking protection from the government instead of implementing the necessary reforms.”

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