LightSquared's profile keeps getting cloudy as GPS interference concerns rise

Lynnette Luna

LightSquared was riding high during last month's CTIA Wireless 2011, announcing wholesale deals with Best Buy and Leap Wireless, but recently a slew of publications across the globe have questioned the success of the company's plan given the potential interference problem with GPS, placing a cloud over the venture's public relations profile.

Recently, the U.S. Defense Department and the Department of Transportation sounded 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 to FCC Chairman Julius 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.

Moreover, a pretty influential group of manufacturers whose businesses rely on the accuracy of GPS, have come together to form a group called in opposition to LightSquared's plan, too. Its members include Garmin and Trimble and several transportation associations.

The problem for LightSquared is that it cannot say for sure whether its operations interfere or not. And it cannot directly refute alarms from entities like the DoD that keep sounding the alarm. I can only imagine what these fears are doing for its funding prospects. If there is a fix, I have to wonder just how much it will cost.--Lynnette