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A victory for all who rely on GPS

Some good news for GPS manufacturers, boaters and millions of other users of the satellite-based navigation system that you may have missed, given that it broke on the eve of the Miami boat shows. The Federal Communications Commission last week said it would block a plan to build a new national wireless broadband network because it interferes with GPS devices.

The move was a major blow to efforts by LightSquared Inc., which is owned by New York hedge fund manager Philip Falcone, whose Harbinger Capital Partners has put billions into the plan for a network to provide Internet and voice services.

The FCC had given LightSquared conditional approval, pending more testing by a national technical working group on the GPS interference problem and possible solutions. The FCC said last week that the tests showed the wireless network would indeed interfere with GPS signals and that there was no practical way at this time to mitigate the problems.

LightSquared called the testing “severely flawed” and said it remained committed to finding a solution with both the federal government and the GPS industry, according to reports. GPS signals operate in a band directly adjacent to the frequency that LightSquared had proposed using.

The planned wireless network was opposed by a broad coalition of GPS manufacturers and user groups, including Garmin, the Pentagon and BoatUS, which last year came together under the Save Our GPS Coalition. Last July, BoatUS, for instance, hand-delivered 15,000 comments to the FCC from boaters who opposed the proposal.

“It is unimaginable that the federal government, the guardian of the bandwidth, would consider approving a proposal with so many problems and grave safety consequences,” BoatUS president Margaret Podlich said at the time. “Any degradation of the GPS signal will shake the confidence of recreational boaters in the nation’s GPS-reliant search-and-rescue systems.”

There are an estimated 100 million GPS devices in use in the United States. LightSquared had suggested that a new filter would correct the interference problem. Opponents said the company had “oversimplified and greatly overstated the significance” of assertions from a single vendor to have solved the interference problem.

The Wall Street Journal, in a story last week, quoted Harold Feld, the legal director for Public Knowledge, a public interest group that supported the LightSquared proposal. “The problem for Falcone is that it’s like buying Florida real estate and not just discovering that you bought swampland, but that it’s a toxic waste dump,” Feld told the newspaper.

The paper said those who know Falcone describe him as a “canny trader who should not be written off.”

Comments

4 comments on “A victory for all who rely on GPS

  1. tigerpilot

    LightSquared et al bought a frequency bad that was clearly intended for satellite transmission and then tried to bribe their way with the Obama administration to allow land based broadcast. The agency who really put the brakes on this on is DOD. The noise from the guy in the street was a help but national defense is a hard issue to quarrel with.

  2. Scott

    Tigerpilot,

    I believe you are wrong about this. Lightsquared does indeed own a frequency intended for satellite tranmission of communications. This frequency is very close in the spectrum to the GPS frequency. The reason it interferes with GPS signal quality is not the fault Lightsquared, but the GPS manfacturers that have recievers sensetive to a frequency outside their prescribed bandwidth.

    The spectrum allocated to GPS does not overlap that of Lightsquared. The filter that would be required would just force GPS back into it’s portion of the spectrum. The GPS lobby doesn’t want to have to pay for this and being larger and more powerful than their rival they can buy a favorable ruling from our government.

    This is not the free market at work but government showing favoratism to one giant industry over another. The guardian of the bandwidth, our federal government, just ruled that GPS does not have to stay within their bandwidth and Lightsquared cannot use theirs.

  3. dave

    Scott,
    you may want to do some more reading of the facts…

    Lightsquared bought some “satellite” bandwidth, which by it’s designation is for “weak signal” space devices…i.e. – very low power and in the sky….then they asked for and were granted a waiver to use 60 watt transmitters, mounted on Earth (not satellite based) in the hopes of not “interfering with” current devices nearby…

    kind of like having some candles in your backyard for light…and the neighbor launching a Saturn V booster off next door…some of that light would blot out your candle, for a while….nothing wrong with your candle by the way

    or our GPS system

    AND the FCC should have never provided a waiver in the first place, by doing so, they have once again politicized technology to the advantage of business…

    Lightsquared can certainly use this spectrum or sell it, they just can’t use high power devices in close proximity to the GPS users….but that was never their plan…they hoped to build a new 4G network and lease it to people in competition with the current carriers…

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