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By Paul Barbagallo
A lobbying group representing global positioning systems users and vendors urged the Federal Communications Commission Nov. 8 to permanently bar LightSquared Inc. from deploying a mobile broadband network using a 10 megahertz block of spectrum that is the closest to GPS operations.
Recent test results have confirmed that use of the company's upper 10 MHz block of frequencies interfered with GPS receivers used by the Coast Guard, NASA, and the Federal Aviation Administration, and caused GPS receivers used by first responders such as state police, fire, and ambulance crews to lose reception.
LightSquared has agreed to move operations to a lower 10 MHz of spectrum to alleviate interference problems with most GPS devices, at a cost to the company of $100 million, but is holding out hope that it could use the upper block at some point in the future.
The issue has emerged as one of the most complex and politically challenging for the FCC.
“The FCC owes it to all concerned to immediately act to ensure that this cloud is removed and that LightSquared is put on clear notice that it will not be allowed to pursue future terrestrial use of the upper MSS [Mobile Satellite Services] spectrum,” wrote the Coalition to Save Our GPS, which includes FedEx Corp., United Parcel Service Inc., GPS-unit makers Trimble and Garmin Ltd. and the Air Transport Association with members Delta Air Lines Inc. and American Airlines, in its filing with the FCC.
“A prompt ruling responsive to the coalition's request will also create a much more constructive and solutions-oriented process for completion of consideration of LightSquared's proposed lower band operations,” the group said.
Federal testing is now under way to determine whether LightSquared's network would interfere with GPS devices on the lower 10 megahertz block of spectrum.
But on a conference call with reporters Nov. 8, Jim Kirkland, vice president and general counsel for Trimble, said the upper band “should be taken off the table now.”
In response, LightSquared argued that the interference problem is the fault of the GPS industry because the receivers are substandard.
“Now the industry is demanding that the government formally expropriate part of LightSquared's spectrum—worth billions of dollars—and turn it over to the GPS industry in perpetuity,” Terry Neal, a spokesman for LightSquared, said in an e-mailed statement. “Today's filing is little more than a land grab designed to reward spectrum squatters who have failed to innovate their technology.”
The overarching concern of the GPS industry is that LightSquared's proposed network requires the company to deploy significantly more terrestrial base stations to operate in the MSS downlink band. These base stations, which were originally intended only as a “fill in” where mobile satellite service coverage is inadequate, emit much higher power and stand to create substantially more interference with GPS operations.
For the GPS Coalition's filing, visit http://www.saveourgps.org/pdf/fcc/Coalition_Upper_10MHz_Ex%20Parte_11-08-11.pdf.
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