In March we told you about a move by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to allow the company LightSquared to move ahead with a plan to use a signal for advanced 4G cell phone service that could interfere with the GPS satellite signal you receive. The industry coalition that formed to fight that move - saveourgps.org moved fast to get the FCC to slow down the idea of letting LightSquared fire up its new network.
Fast forward to this week, where LightSquared has offered its solution to the conflict issue and baffled the industry by its timing. LightSquared was to release a report to FCC last week, but delayed the action until July 1 needing more study (they have not responded to a media inquiry from me about their report or the issue).
However, according to a release this week from LightSquared the solution to the GPS interference problem they propose would be to avoid using a specific block of the 10MHz frequency they say poses interference to many GPS receivers. The company says "this block happens to be the specific set of frequencies" it had planned for use for the initial launch of its nationwide wireless network. They instead say a different 10MHz block of the spectrum can be used without creating an interference risk.
According to LightSquared, its test results (which have not been released) show this lower block of frequencies is "largely free of interference issues with the exception of a limited number of high precision GPS receivers that are specifically designed to rely on LightSquared's spectrum." The company says it had planned to move into this block over the next two to three years, but now will use it for launch.
However, the LightSquared plan still needs a sign-off from FCC and based on the work of Save Our GPS it'll need industry support too. As part of its rollout, LightSquared says it will revise its FCC plan to reduce maximum authorized power of its base station transmitters by more than 50%, which it says will limit the company to the power it was authorized to use in 2005, which it says provides extra protection for GPS.
Jim Kirkland, vice president and general counsel for Trimble, a founding member of the Save Our GPS coalition issued a response to the LightSquared plan: "This latest gambit by LightSquared borders on the bizarre. Last week LightSquared unilaterally delayed filing of the study report that culminated in months of intensive work to evaluate interference to GPS, because they purportedly needed two more weeks to analyze the results. Days later, well before the report is scheduled to be filed, LightSquared unilaterally announces that it has found a 'solution.'"
The coalition calls the LightSquared solution "nothing but a 'Hail Mary' move" noting that the solution still interferes with many critical GPS receivers in addition to the precision receivers that even LightSquared concedes will be affected. The coalition wants LightSquared to move completely away from this frequency range.
LightSquared says its approach will provide it enough spectrum to meet growing customer needs for the "next several years." And remember LightSquared is supposed to be the one bridging the rural digital divide with more broadband reach by being a third-party source for the highest level 4G across a wide geography. The company still has to work through the regulatory approvals, which industry observers question will be as easy as changing a few documents. Given the Save Our GPS response, this issue is far from resolved.
UPDATE: Save Our GPS issued a press release overnight that offers some economic information about the potential cost of the 40,000 base stations LightSquared plans to set up. You can learn more at Economic Impact.