Heads Up, Precision Ag Advocates: You Need to Stay on Top of This One

Kansas Viewpoint

LightSquared agrees to tweak its towers to reduce power of signals, but precision GPS is bigtime at risk

Published on: September 9, 2011

On Wednesday, LightSquared, backed by Philip Falcone's Harbinger Capital Partner's hedge fund, gave a new proposal to the FCC that offered to tweak its towers so their signals would not interfere with GPS devices. Ahem, some GPS devices.

Dale Leibach, spokesman for the Coalition to Save Our GPS said the offer was a positive step toward reduced interference for some devices. The kicker, however: "It still leaves a huge gap because it does not claim to solve interference to high-precision GPS receivers."

On Thursday and Friday, the FCC said there needs to be more information and more tests.

Falcone has said competitive wireless providers AT&T and Verizon are behind the effort to derail deployment of LightSquared,which has a $9 billion deal with Sprint to manage its 4G network and has suggested the GPS industry has had "years" to prepare for potential interference with its satellite signals and has not moved quickly enough to shield its equipment.

LightSquared intially won FCC approval for its network to use the bandwidth immediately adjacent to GPS when it was proposing a satellite based system. Since then, it has amended its system plan to include thousands of land-based towers, each of which packs a signal power billions of times greater than the one beaming down from space.

The issue: GPS signals are ALL satellite based and are thus much weaker than the ones that would come from LightSquared ground towers. The result: when a GPS device comes within 20 miles of a LightSquared land  tower, it stops working.

What hits me in the back and forth is the emphasis on equipment most at risk: airplanes on final approach, hurricane trackers, flood plain mappers, etc. Mark my words. Somebody in the FCC or in Congress will pay attention to those folks.

It's going to be a lot harder for Homer Farmer to get them to understand that he needs his planter and fertilizer equipment to actually follow his infrared soil map.

Deere, Trimble, and TopCon are in the coalition. Call them, write them and let them know you are behind their efforts to protect farmers from ending up with the price tag on this issue.

What Falcone and his hedge fund backers want is a resolution that makes GPS users pay to shield their equipment from his network's signal override. What they don't want is to have to modify their network to avoid interference with GPS.

What we're likely to end up with is something in between. And that's the red flag. There's a real risk that Falcone, et. al, will bow to the press of the "life-threatening" situations and pay the airlines, first responders, etc. for any modification or shielding costs but that farmers will left to fend for themselves.

Let's get busy to make sure that doesn't happen.