GPS companies clash with LightSquared, each other at public meeting

Global Positioning System companies remain split on the best way to contend with LightSquared.

Representatives from three GPS-based companies spoke alongside LightSquared Executive Vice President Martin Harriman during the two-hour panel discussion, which was part of a National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing Advisory Board meeting in Alexandria, Va. The Reston, Va.-based startup company wants to develop a nationwide network of 40,000 cell towers that would provide broadband access across rural America, but opponents claim the network would interfere with existing GPS receivers. The Federal Communications Commission currently is looking into the matter.

"We love LightSquared," said Javad Ashjaee, chief executive officer of Javad GNSS, which manufactures GPS receivers. Ashjaee presented his own findings showing that LightSquared's towers could coexist with and even complement high-precision GPS operators.

Ashjaee said LightSquared's filtering creates a strong "fence" that separates its signal from his company's receivers. "No signal analyzer can do as good as this," he stated. Javad maintains that interference problems stem from the fact that most manufacturers didn't pay enough attention to other devices operating in frequencies near the GPS bands, or develop adequate protective filters in the antenna section of their devices. To prove his point, Ashjaee brought several dozen boxes of his company's receivers, inviting any interested parties to perform their own tests.

But others at the meeting disagreed. Both Scott Burgett, software engineering manager at Garmin International, and Jim Kirkland, vice president of Trimble Navigation, said LightSquared's towers would interfere with their companies' GPS products. Trimble and Garmin both sell devices that work on lower frequencies than Javad's high-precision units, and therefore remain exposed to LightSquared interference, Burgett and Kirkland said.

"It is almost impossible to design new products compatible with LightSquared's proposed system without knowing its technology's end state," Burgett said. He estimated it would take 10 to 15 years to properly retrofit Garmin devices so they could coexist with LightSquared.

"There is no doubt" that LightSquared causes mass interference to precision location technology, Kirkland said. He asserted that a solution would have to involve either retrofitting or outright replacing existing receivers to prevent such interference, which would cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Kirkland added that LightSquared should pay for such costs since it is a new player in the market.

Both Trimble and Garmin are members of the Coalition to Save Our GPS, which has been vocal about its strong opposition to LightSquared since the company unveiled its plans.

Harriman said LightSquared wants to coexist with GPS. Though he stated that his company "can provide the missing link that GPS has been looking for," he did not provide clear answers as to whether LightSquared would be prepared to pay to retrofit existing receivers to avoid interference, saying only that the company would be able to meet the standard of noninterference expected of it.

Harriman added that LightSquared has made an offer of $50 million to the federal government to offset the costs associated with replacing or retrofitting receivers used by the Federal Aviation Administration and other federal agencies.

LightSquared over the last few years has been securing deals with retail customers, such as Cricket and Best Buy, interested in tapping into the potential of a nationwide broadband market. Harriman said the company currently has 300,000 satellite terminals in the United States, and launched "the most sophisticated communications satellite ever" in 2010.

NEXT STORY: Mark Day, CTO at HUD, heads to GSA

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