Something in the industries and the government is not quite right. Something’s up. Last January, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) waived their own rules to shotgun an approval through the system for LightSquared, an emerging company in the new 4G technologies.
LightSquared is planning to develop and launch a wholesale 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution) wireless broadband communications network throughout the United States. This new 4G system will also integrate satellite coverage. The company has taken in about $1 billion in investments to produce this new technology.
Unfortunately, there is a fly in the ointment.
There have long been questions about the frequency band and power output of this new 4G network. The frequency range it would use is too close to the bandwidth in use by current GPS satellite system and units. Representatives from many GPS companies voiced their concerns.
Those concerns evidently fell on the deaf ears of FCC International Bureau Chief Mindel De La Torre, who gave the approval for the go ahead to LightSquared to begin building their system, a system that would also include 40,000 base stations throughout the United States.
According to an article published in GPS World on February 1, 2011, members of the GPS Industry Council and representatives from Garmin and Trimble made public the report, “Experimental Evidence of Wide Area GPS Jamming That Will Result from LightSquared’s Proposal to Convert Portions of L Band 1 to High Power Terrestrial Broadband.” They presented this report to the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology, to the FCC International Bureau, the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, and the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau.
In short, the problems with 4G interference were a known issue.
Throughout the approval process, questions have been asked, studies approved and cited, opinions and facts voiced from both sides, and yet the approval process continued. It raised concerns well enough for 66 members of Congress write a letter to the FCC to make known their concerns to the public. In the letter addressed to FCC Chairman, Julius Genachowski, the 66 members requested approval for LightSquared’s waiver be granted “only if it can be indisputably proven that there will be no GPS interference.”
Cited as part of the letter, head of the US Air Force Space Command, General William Shelton, said, “Within three to five miles on the ground and within 12 miles in the air, GPS is jammed by those towers… If we allow that system to be fielded and it does indeed jam GPS, think about the impact. We’re hopeful we can find a solution, but physics being physics, we don’t see a solution right now. LightSquared has got to prove that they can operate with GPS and we’re hoping the FCC does the right thing.”
Following further government testing yesterday, June 10, 2011, agencies discovered the problems with GPS interference and jamming are more profound than originally anticipated. The FAA reported that LightSquared transmitters caused “significant measured degradation” in aviation GPS units.
All of this is bodes bad news for LightSquared. According to the Wall Street Journal, investors in Harbinger Capital Partners, the hedge fund led by Philip Falcone, are demanding a refund of $1 billion. Falcone has admitted that investors are worried about the large portion of the fund dedicated to LightSquared. Obviously, many are concerned with the problems of 4G implementation. This goes well beyond aviators, navigators, drivers, anglers, and surveyors.
To echo General Shelton, let’s hope the FCC does the right thing.
© 2011 J. Clark