Defense Department, DOT voice concern over LightSquared's LTE plans

The U.S. Defense Department and the Department of Transportation are sounding the alarm over LightSquared's plans for an LTE network in the satellite L-band, asking the Federal Communications Commission to force a more comprehensive study of the potential interference problems with GPS.

In a letter sent last week to FCC Chairman Genachowski, deputy secretaries from the DOD and the DOT voiced their concerns about the FCC's process for giving a waiver to LightSquared, which plans to use both terrestrial and L-band satellite spectrum to build a nationwide LTE network that it will offer on a wholesale basis.

The FCC granted a waiver to LightSquared in late January to operate the network with the stipulation that it resolve GPS interference concerns before turning on its commercial service. The GPS community has said that LightSquared's L-band spectrum, in the 1.5-1.6 GHz band, is too close to GPS spectrum, and that the company's cell sites will cause harmful interference. LightSquared formed a working group in February with the United States Global Positioning System Industry Council to study the interference issues. LightSquared has to report to the FCC regularly about its progress and a final report is due in June.

A group of manufacturers whose businesses rely on the accuracy of GPS, have come together to form a group called SaveOurGPS.org in opposition to LightSquared's national mobile broadband network that combines terrestrial and L-band satellite spectrum. The group is concerned about LightSquared's operations potentially interfering with GPS signals. The National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) also raised similar concerns for the government users of wireless spectrum.

"First, DOD and DOT were not sufficiently included in the development of the LightSquared initial work plan and its key milestones," deputy DOT secretary John Porcari and deputy DOD secretary William Lynn say at the start of the letter."We are concerned with this lack of inclusiveness regarding input from federal stakeholders. In particular, active engagement with DOD and DOT, the national stewards and global providers of [GPS], is essential to protect this ubiquitous defense, transportation and economic utility as the [work group] proceeds."

The agencies are also irritated that the commission didn't ask for a consensus from the group on the issue or offer guidance on differing technical viewpoints from federal and private manufacturers. "DOD and DOT need to understand how differing conclusions and recommendations developed during the [work group] process that could affect national security and transportation safety will be addressed," the letter reads.

The letter concludes with the agencies "strongly" advising the FCC to perform a "comprehensive study of all the potential interference" issues to GPS.

In a prepared statement quoted by Computerworld, Jeff Carlisle, executive vice president for regulatory affairs with LightSquared, said LightSquared is "cooperating with federal agencies, the GPS community and GPS engineers in a transparent and technically accurate testing program to address issues relating to GPS receivers. We are also providing equipment and personnel to the U.S. Air Force's Space Command, NASA and other federal agencies to help them begin their own testing processes."

LightSquared is conducting LTE trials in Baltimore, Denver, Las Vegas and Phoenix, with commercial launches planned by the third quarter of this year. The company has committed to cover 100 million POPs by the end of 2012, 145 million by the end of 2013 and 260 million by the end of 2015.

The hype around the company is at an all-time high as companies ranging from Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) to Time Warner have reportedly been interested in using the LTE network. The company has signed on Leap Wireless (NASDAQ:LEAP) and Best Buy as wholesale customers. Earlier this week CEO Sanjiv Ahuja claimed the company is in negotiations with 15 companies that want to use the network.

For more:  
- see this Flightglobal article
- read this Computerworld article

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