LightSquared's critics battle on over GPS issues

As LightSquared defiantly battles to save its business, its critics are just as boldly fighting to keep the company's wholesale LTE network from being built in LightSquared's L-band Mobile Satellite Service spectrum.

The Coalition to Save Our GPS filed comments with the FCC on March 16 urging the agency's International Bureau to quickly "affirm the findings of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) that LightSquared's proposed operations would cause harmful interference to GPS and that no feasible mitigation measures exist at this time, revoke the conditional authority that the International Bureau provided to LightSquared, and suspend indefinitely LightSquared's underlying Ancillary Terrestrial Component (ATC) authorization."

The coalition's comments were made in response to a public notice issued by the FCC last month after it revoked conditional permission for LightSquared to build its planned wholesale LTE network due to GPS interference concerns.

Coming just a few days after the coalition's one-year anniversary--its formation was first announced on March 10, 2011--the group's recent comments continue to reflect its original assertion that the expansion of terrestrial use of the satellite spectrum immediately neighboring that of GPS will cause severe interference to millions of GPS receivers. The coalition's members include GPS makers Garmin and Trimble as well as heavy equipment makers Caterpillar and John Deere.

For its part, LightSquared, which is backed by billionaire Philip Falcone and his Harbinger Capital hedge fund, blasted the FCC's decision as a "disastrous bait-and-switch" and a violation of its "constitutional rights." The firm has hired high-profile lawyers, including former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson, as it apparently prepares for a court battle with the FCC.

LightSquared has said it would be prepared to swap its spectrum holdings for other MSS spectrum that does not have GPS interference issues. Yet takers for LightSquared's spectrum may be limited because of the frequencies' purported interference problems.

The recent comments from the Coalition to Save Our GPS appear aimed at setting the ground for future prohibitions on terrestrial use of the L-Band spectrum. "It now appears that any significant terrestrial use of the L-Band spectrum may cause harmful interference to GPS receivers," said the group.

The coalition is also pushing for FCC review of its prior determinations related to L-Band usage "in light of new evidence, such as the finding of widespread harmful interference caused by high-powered terrestrial operations in the band adjacent to GPS."

In fact, the FCC is launching a rulemaking proceeding regarding the provision of terrestrial cellular communications on MSS frequencies. LightSquared and Dish Network both want to use their satellite spectrum for terrestrial services, though it appears Dish's spectrum does not have the same potential for interference with other services that LightSquared's does.

In its comments, the Coalition to Save Our GPS also responded to LightSquared's argument that any GPS interference related to its network is due to shortcuts the GPS industry undertook in equipment design over the past several years. LightSquared has long contended that GPS devices were not designed to properly filter signals from the company's L-band 1.6 GHz spectrum.  "There is overwhelming evidence of interference to critical government GPS-based systems, including those used in defense and aviation applications, which were designed to meet long-standing and demanding standards specified through rigorous government procurement and standards efforts," said the coalition.

The battle over LightSquared's future could be long and drawn out as both sides have deep pockets to continue the fight. Last Friday, LightSquared gained the return of $65 million in prepayments it had made to Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) after the latter opted to break up the $9 billion network-sharing and operations partnership it had formed with LightSquared to roll out LTE coverage.

Quoted in a Reuters article, industry analyst Tim Farrar, principal at TMF Associates, said, "Clearly LightSquared is focused on spinning out resources as long as possible, and this gives them more cash." But he noted that a dragged-out battle over LightSquared's spectrum means "some of the ability to recover assets in the event of a potential bankruptcy also drain away."

Falcone has repeatedly said bankruptcy is not an option for LightSquared.

Sprint has said it would consider a future partnership with LightSquared should the company resolve its GPS interference issues.

For more:
- see this filing
- see this Reuters article
- see this Wall Street Journal article (sub. req.)

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