Lockheed Martin Corp. and OnStar are both asking the Federal Communications Commission to deny the latest plan by LightSquared to operate a national broadband network in frequencies near the band used by GPS navigation systems, due to interference problems. Lockheed operates a satellite system for the Federal Aviation Administration that improves GPS accuracy, while OnStar has installed GPS-based navigation systems in 6 million vehicles.
The European Commission, the executive body for the 27 countries in the European Union, also opposes the LightSquared plan. It told the FCC that it had "deep concern" that the LightSquared network would cause harmful interference to signals broadcast by its Galileo satellite navigation system slated to begin operating within four years. A number of agricultural organizations that use GPS to support precision farming operations also asked the FCC to halt the LightSquared deployment because it would render GPS-enabled agriculture tools useless.
LightSquared and its predecessor companies have operated a satellite based mobile communications systems since 1996 on frequencies near the GPS band. In January, the FCC gave the company tentative approval to build a national, terrestrial network with up to 40,000 cellular towers operating in the same frequency band.
On Thursday, LightSquared inked a 15-year, $9 billion deal with Sprint, the country's third-largest wireless carrier, to build the terrestrial network. The deal will give Sprint the option to use up to 50 percent of the capacity of the LightSquared network.
FCC authorization for the LightSquared terrestrial network was conditional, pending tests conducted in cooperation with the GPS industry to determine if the high-powered signals from the cell towers interfered with GPS receivers.
Those tests revealed that when operating in the upper band frequency block of 1545.2-1555 MHz, the LightSquared system would hurt the performance of a significant number of GPS receivers that operate in the adjacent 1559-1610 MHz band.
The company filed a new plan with the FCC on June 30 to initially limit deployment to its lower frequency band, which it said would not adversely effect the performance of 99 percent of GPS receivers except for highly precise receivers used in agriculture, mining and construction.
The FCC comment period on the latest LightSquared plan closed July 30. Lockheed Martin, in its July 29 filing, said test reports submitted to the FCC showed that "a significant number of GPS receivers and applications would be impacted by terrestrial operations" in the lower LightSquared band.
Lockheed Martin said any interference to the reception and use by aircraft of the signals broadcast by the Wide Area Augmentation System satellites it operates for the FAA "significantly reduces the efficiency of the National Airspace System and quite possibly endangers safety of life and property." Last Wednesday, an internal FAA report leaked by the GPS industry concluded that the LightSquared network would disable GPS for aviation use over the continental United States.
Heinz Zourek, director general of the European Commission's directorate for enterprise and industry, told FCC chairman Julius Genachowski in a July 19 letter that analysis conducted by the European Space Agency showed that "transmissions from LightSquared base stations do indeed have considerable potential to cause harmful interference to Galileo receivers operating in the United States."
Zourek added that while international regulations allow the FCC to decide on spectrum matters within the United States, those regulations make it clear that national systems "are expected not to cause harmful interference" to systems operated by another country.
Thomas Jeffers, vice president for public policy of the OnStar division of General Motors, said in a July 29 filing with the FCC that "we are not confident that LightSquared's assertion that transmissions in the lower 10 MHz of its spectrum will not cause GPS interference. We do not have enough data to support this conclusion." Jeffers urged the FCC to require LightSquared to conduct more tests before receiving permission to start operations.
Christopher Pachta, a precision agricultural economist with the Farmway Cooperative in Concordia, Kan., wrote in July 27 comments that "We use GPS every day for accurately applying crop protection products and fertilizers . . . If GPS became unreliable or unusable it would cause us to lose money due to decreases in efficiency and the investments we made into GPS based technologies would be worthless."
Pachta warned the FCC that "the loss of reliable GPS would essentially set farming practices back 10 years or more. Furthermore, without the benefits of GPS, farmers will be unable to supply enough food, fuel and fiber to take care of an ever growing world population!"
LightSquared and the FCC have until Aug. 15 to respond to these comments.