LightSquared had two high-profile controversies flare up during the past several days, but the startup remains undaunted in its efforts to launch its wholesale nationwide 4G-LTE network, integrated with satellite coverage.
Resolving the technology controversy is the most critical for LightSquared’s success. The Federal Communications Commission’s permission hinges on tests to verify the new service doesn’t interfere with GPS services. LightSquared previously agreed to operate its cell towers on just the lower 10 MHz of its spectrum, and last week said it partnered with GPS manufacturer Javad GNSS to develop a system that will adapt precision GPS devices so LightSquared’s network won’t interfere with them, at a cost of between $50-300 per device. “It was a very simple and inexpensive process and was developed in a matter of days. The additional cost for this technology is not expected to increase the selling price of the device to the customer,” LightSquared said in a statement.
“This interference problem is not a difficult one to solve, once you decide to solve it,’’ said Javad GNSS founder Javad Ashjaee. “The truth is that high precision GPS users have a wide range of interference issues to contend with – from congested frequencies to intentional jamming. As LightSquared’s spectrum neighbor, it’s our obligation to build a wall between our spectrum and LightSquared’s. My filter accomplishes that goal. Good fences make good neighbors.” Additionally, Ashjaee said, the GPS industry’s tests did not take into account the GPS modernization plan that is in place.
That didn’t seem to convince those that already were skeptical, including Gen. William L. Shelton, who as Commander of the U.S. Air Force Space Command is responsible for a global network of satellite command and control, communications, missile warning and space launch facilities, among other things. Speaking at an Air Force Association event, he stated that GPS and LightSquared’s proposed network simply “cannot coexist” and that the proposed filters would cost billions of dollars and take ten years to install everywhere they’re needed. His remarks were in reply to journalists’ questions regarding the general’s previous assertion that the White House had unsuccessfully put pressure on him to make his testimony to the House Armed Services subcommittee more favorable to LightSquared.
At that hearing, Shelton had said in his sworn testimony, “Based on the test results and analysis today, the LightSquared network would effectively jam vital GPS receivers. And to our knowledge thus far, there are no mitigation options that would be effective in eliminating interference to essential GPS services in the United States.” As to costs, he replied, “We have not estimated cost. However, I think it’d be very safe to say that the cost would be in the b’s – billions of dollars.”
The Coalition to Save Our GPS, which represents the interests of many industries dependent on GPS, was equally uncompromising. “LightSquared has, as usual, oversimplified and greatly overstated the significance of the claims of a single vendor to have ‘solved’ the interference issue,” the group said in a statement. “There have been many vendor claims that have not proven out in rigorous tests and the demanding tests of marketplace acceptance. Moreover, this is not a one-size-fits-all situation, and a few prototypes does not a solution make.” Some of the coalition’s more than 75 members include FedEx Corp., United Parcel Service Inc., the Air Transport Association, and GPS unit makers Trimble and Garmin.
Responses weren’t all negative. For example, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), whose constituency includes Silicon Valley, spoke out in support of LightSquared. “LightSquared’s proposal to build a nationwide terrestrial-based wireless broadband network offers exciting job opportunities for our nation,” Eshoo wrote to Larry Strickling, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. “It is well worth the effort to work on interference issues to the nearby GPS band.”
Then there’s the politics, which are inextricably entwined with the technology. Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) and five other members of Strategic Forces Subcommittee (of which he is chair) have asked the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to investigate how LightSquared got its FCC waiver “in a short-circuited rule making process which threatens to jeopardize national security.”
The letter also referenced the fact that LightSquared has received $3 billion in majority funding from Harbinger Capital Partners, an investment fund run by Democratic party donor Philip Falcone, concluding, “Additionally, we have received reports that numerous witnesses before our committee, and likely therefore other committees, were asked during the administration’s testimony coordination process to include language with which many of them disagreed, and that some ultimately declined to include. We are concerned that this language shows an administration bias in favor of LightSquared. Such disturbing reports cannot go ignored by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. We urge your prompt attention.”
Another letter was sent by House Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Tom Petri (R-WI) and Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) . “In our decades of public service, we have never seen the entire federal government and so many private companies directed to expend such considerable financial resources and man hours to accommodate a single company’s desires,” it read. “Never have we seen a company’s business model threaten critical transportation safety infrastructure and yet be assisted by its federal regulator. It is odd that the FCC has pegged the hopes of expanding broadband access on such a controversial proposal by a single applicant.”
Republican presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) also made her views known in a public statement: “Sadly, I believe President Obama is willing to overlook the risks the LightSquared 4G network could pose to the American people and national security because he would rather grant political favors to two of his supporters involved in this situation.”
There is no suggestion that LightSquared has received or seeks to receive any kind of funding or loans from the government.
DoDBuzz – http://tinyurl.com/4y6nsbu
Daily Beast – http://tinyurl.com/3svgvkq
Rep. Bachmann’s letter – http://tinyurl.com/3mfu3yt
Rep. Turner’s letter – http://tinyurl.com/448p4us
PC World – http://tinyurl.com/4xb3tny
Multichannel News – http://tinyurl.com/4x7btf5
The Hill – http://tinyurl.com/3d4kxvx
Artist impression shows the GPS Block IIF satellite, courtesy of the U.S. Air Force