The Looming GPS and Smartphone Wars

Yesterday, this blog dealt with the situation of the Federal Communications Commission approving LightSquared’s proposal to place a new wireless system into service requiring some 40,000 towers throughout the country.  What LightSquared and the FCC neglected or overlooked was the fact this proposal, as petitioned, will have a direct impact on all the GPS units operating in the country.

As cited in the letter to the head of the FCC from 66 members of Congress, people using GPS to navigate on the ground will not be able to use their GPS units within three to five miles of one of the towers used by the 4G system.  This includes motorists, people fishing, surveyors, hikers, and bikers.

For aviation applications, it is even worse.  Any aircraft within 12 miles of a tower will have their GPS receivers jammed by the 4G transmissions.  This will give pilots erroneous and dangerous position information as they fly.

Now, it is one thing when a motorist cannot find his way along a road to his or her destination, or an angler cannot find his favorite fishing hole.  It is altogether something else when you are talking about an aircraft with passengers and crew onboard who suddenly find themselves unable to navigate the airspace because of the intrusion of cell phone signals.

This situation is not good.

And the GPS system is imperative for more than people fishing, motorists driving, and pilots flying.  Of those, the aviators are a far more important factor than the former.

But here is the real kicker: GPS is required for national security.  We simply cannot do without it.

Many are going to want their 4G capable phones; there is no question there is a demand for the new phones.  However, it is going to boil down to a choice—gadgets, or air travel. Video games on the phone, or aviation safety.  Internet on a 4G device or military security.

Somehow, the wireless industry was able to acquire initial approval for development of this system.  They made very large and important financial deals with companies in the electronics industries.  No one seemed to consider the conflict with the GPS navigational system, which is already in place.  The sense many have is the FCC did not consider the necessity of air navigation for Life Flight helicopters, other aviation applications, as well as other uses of the GPS system when granting initial approval for the project.

This was a dire oversight.  This oversight will result in conflicts between those who need to use GPS and those who want 4G phones.

It is probably going to cost the early adopters and initial investors a lot of money.


© 2011 J. Clark

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3 Responses to The Looming GPS and Smartphone Wars

  1. Don O'Neill says:

    In Cyber Security, how does the Lightsquared intrusion into the GPS spectrum differ from a denial of service attack by an inadvertent actor? If instead of Lightsquared the intruder were a nation state like China, would that be considered an act of war?We see lawyers everywhere at the FCC, but where are the engineers who let this happen? Is this yet another example of the STEM shortfall?

    • Joe Clark says:

      Don, I have to agree with you. I wonder what is going on myself. It seems as if there has been a suspension of common sense. And yes, you are right–if it were another country jamming or denying signals, it would be considered an act of war.

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