NTIA finds LightSquared and GPS are incompatible, FCC blocks network

The network planned by start-up wireless broadband carrier LightSquared cannot safely co-exist with the Global Positioning System, Lawrence Strickling, administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, wrote in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission Tuesday.

LightSquared's planned network of 40,000 cellular base stations operate in a frequency range close to GPS, and on Jan. 26, 2011, the FCC gave the company a conditional waiver to start operation. But the agency said the company first had to resolve interference issues with GPS receivers through tests conducted in conjunction with federal users.

LightSquared flunked two rounds of tests last year and Strickling said in his letter to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski that based on evaluation and analysis of those tests "we conclude that LightSquared's proposed mobile broadband network will impact GPS service and that there is no practical way to mitigate the potential interference issue at this time."

In a statement, the FCC said, "LightSquared's proposal to provide ground-based mobile service offered the potential to unleash new spectrum for mobile broadband and enhance competition. The commission clearly stated from the outset that harmful interference to GPS would not be permitted. This is why the conditional waiver order issued by the commission's International Bureau prohibited LightSquared from beginning commercial operations unless harmful interference issues were resolved."

Given NTIA's conclusion, the statement said, "the commission will not lift the prohibition on LightSquared."

LightSquared said last October it had developed signal filters to resolve the interference issues. In his letter, Strickling tacitly acknowledged this, but added that while GPS manufacturers could use new technology to resolve interference in the future, "the time and money required for federal, commercial and private sector users to replace technology in the field and the marketplace, on aircraft and in integrated national security issues cannot support the scheduled deployment of terrestrial services planned by LightSquared."

LightSquared has already invested $3 billion in its planned network and reacted sharply to Stickling's letter. The company said Stickling's recommendations to the FCC were based on "flawed conclusions" in a report last month by the multi-agency National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing Executive Committee, which determined the LightSquared network "significantly interferes" with GPS.

Jim Kirkland, vice president and general counsel of Trimble Navigation, said the NTIA recommendation marks a "pivotal moment" in the yearlong regulatory and political battle between LightSquared, the GPS industry, the federal government and GPS users.

"After a year of extensive testing, NTIA has now conclusively stated that LightSquared's operations will interfere with GPS and that there is no viable mitigation path for the foreseeable future," Kirkland said.

LightSquared, which last October threatened litigation if the FCC did not green-light its network, took a more conciliatory approach Tuesday. The company said in a press release that it "remains committed to finding a resolution with the federal government and the GPS industry to resolve all remaining concerns. LightSquared is confident that the parties will continue the on-going efforts to explore all engineering options and alternatives to find a solution to this difficult issue."