EXCOM results damage LightSquared's network plans

16 January 2012 |


The National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing Executive Committee (EXCOM), which has been conducting testing and analysis of LightSquared’s network proposals, has released a damning memo which could end its plans to roll out a terrestrial broadband network.

EXCOM, formed of nine federal departments and agencies, has been testing LightSquared’s proposals to deploy a hybrid satellite-terrestrial broadband network, which seeks to use a frequency band adjacent to the global positioning system (GPS) frequencies. “Extensive testing and analysis” has been conducted due to ongoing concerns that LightSquared’s proposals would cause harmful interference to GPS receivers.

In December 2011, testing by the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Systems Engineering Forum conducted tests on 92 different types of GPS receivers. It found interference problems with 75% of them.

In a memo to Lawrence Strickling, the assistant secretary for Communications and Information, two co-chairs of EXCOM, Ashton Carter and John Porcari, said: “It is the unanimous conclusion of the test findings by the EXCOM agencies that both LightSquared’s original and modified plans for its proposed mobile network would cause harmful interference to many GPS receivers.”

Carter and Porcari also expressed concern that the proposals are not compatible with “several GPS-dependent aircraft safety-of-flight systems”.

The memo continues: “There appear to be no practical solutions or mitigations that would permit the LightSquared broadband service, as proposed, to operate in the next few months or years without significantly interfering with GPS.”

The final decision on the future of the LightSquared network rests in the hands of the FCC, but EXCOM’s conclusions are a significant development in the decision-making process.

LightSquared immediately replied with a letter to Strickling, complaining bitterly about the testing process. It complains of the “inappropriate involvement of the GPS manufacturers, lax controls, obvious bias, lack of transparency and unexplained delays”. It claims that many of the receivers tested were manufactured years ago, or are not on sale to the general public.

LightSquared has been conducting its own independent testing of GPS interference, based at an Alcatel Lucent facility, which it believes are “more than sufficient” to allow its mitigated proposals to go forwards.

It also sets out a phase 2 test plan, which – with a note of desperation – it proposes can be completed by February 29 2012.

Earlier this month, Capacity reported that Sprint Nextel had granted LightSquared a 30-day extension in its deadline to obtain clearance to operate its network from the FCC, asking it to have matters resolved by January 30 2011.

The findings are particularly bad news for Marc Montagner, who was named as chief financial officer of LightSquared on January 3 2012. He replaces Michael Montemarro, who left the company in November. Montager was appointed for his background in deal making, having spearheaded the merger between Sprint and Nextel.

Meanwhile, Dish Network, which owns 40MHz of spectrum in the 2GHz band, wants to build an advanced LTE network called ‘Ollo’, to be released on the market by 2014. It is in the process of seeking FCC approval for their plans.