LightSquared declares GPS interference problem solved... again

editor's corner

LightSquared has once again declared that it has the GPS interference problem licked.

In a conference call yesterday, Jeff Carlisle, LightSquared executive vice president of regulatory affairs and public policy said the company had partnered with an unnamed leader in GPS technology to develop a prototype device that can offer the same high-precision GPS capabilities but without the interference so that its network can safely operate with GPS equipment.

"We have a proof of concept that uses current technology and equipment that is available today and is affordable," Carlisle said.

LightSquared has been under fire since its June report to the FCC showed that its proposed LTE network network operating in satellite spectrum posed an interference problem to existing GPS devices. LightSquared can't operate in the band until the FCC is satisfied that interference won't be a problem.

LightSquared in recent months has made a number of concessions, including agreeing to temporarily stay out of the upper part of the spectrum that is adjacent to the GPS bands.

Last week, the company sweetened its concessions with the GPS community, presenting the FCC with an amended version of its LTE network plan. The filing was made as LightSquared came under withering criticism at a congressional hearing over its planned wholesale network.

In the filing, LightSquared proposed two significant modifications to its plan, which has already been modified from the company's original proposal. Under the latest version, LightSquared still plans to use the lower 10 MHz chunk of its L-Band spectrum, but will now limit the power of its base stations on the ground to -30dBm when it launches its network.

Still, the FCC declared that more tests are needed to sort out GPS interference concerns. In a public notice released earlier this week, the FCC said that "additional targeted testing is needed to ensure that any potential commercial terrestrial services offered by LightSquared will not cause harmful interference to GPS operations."

The FCC's notice came days after the National Telecommunications and Information Administration sent a letter to the Departments of Defense and Transportation, which said that the NTIA wants to have more tests, and that those tests be completed by Nov. 30. The FCC, however, gave no timetable in the public notice for when its requested tests will be completed.

Subsequently, LightSquared has now revealed the existence of this new GPS prototype. Carlisle claims that the new prototype receiver incorporates technology that can be adapted into other GPS devices and could be put into commercial production within several months.

I wonder if LightSquared is also willing to flip the bill for these new receivers. High-precision receivers can't be replaced overnight. Moreover, the company still faces uneasiness from the Department of Defense.

Nevertheless, LightSquared continues to put on a good front. Earlier this week, Martin Harriman, executive vice president with LightSquared, told attendees at the Mobile Future conference that he expects a resolution to the company's GPS interference issues within a month.

"We are at the end of the process and we expect the FCC to make a decision," said Harriman. "We have made some big concessions ... Sprint wouldn't sign this big deal if it didn't expect it to be resolved. I expect there to be a resolution in the next month."

In July, Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) inked a 15-year network-hosting deal with LightSquared valued at $9 billion. The deal includes spectrum hosting and network services, 4G wholesale and 3G roaming. LightSquared will take advantage of Sprint's new network architecture being deployed via its Network Vision network modernization plan and will pay Sprint to deploy and operate a nationwide LTE network that uses LightSquared's L-Band spectrum.

Harriman said that because of the Sprint deal, LightSquared's initial deployment plans will start later than originally planned, but he added that it will move more quickly. The company now expects its LTE network will be deployed in major U.S. markets in the second half of 2012 and early 2013.

Perhaps the confidence come from the fact that LightSquared appears willing to continue making concessions to get this operation off the ground.--Lynnette