T-Mobile on board with Galileo to improve GPS, E911; Ligado, not so much

Galileo was designed by the European Space Agency, in concert with the U.S., to operate alongside GPS.

T-Mobile USA is among those singing the praises of Europe’s Galileo satellite system for supporting location-based applications and E911 services, but not everyone is fully on board.

Galileo is a global navigation satellite system like GPS and was designed by the European Space Agency, in concert with the U.S., to operate alongside GPS. FCC rules require that receive-only earth stations operating with non-U.S. licensed space stations obtain a license, and the FCC is seeking public comment on whether to grant a waiver as requested by the European Commission (EC).

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) recommended in 2015 that the waiver be granted, and a lot of entities commenting on the matter agree with that.

“T-Mobile takes its E911 responsibilities very seriously,” the company wrote in its March 23 filing (PDF). “That is why it was deeply involved in the E911 Order proceeding, including the roadmap developed by industry and public safety groups, and has worked diligently with the Commission and internally to improve its E911 services. Therefore, it agrees with the vast majority of other parties in this proceeding that have urged the Commission to enhance E911 capabilities by taking appropriate action to allow U.S. mobile wireless user devices to receive and utilize Galileo signals.”

The filing acknowledges that Ligado Networks and Inmarsat, in their filings, argue that there are risks of interference from Galileo transmissions to their operations in the L Band.

Ligado holds a Mobile Satellite Service (MSS) license for operations in the 1525-1559 MHz band adjacent to the E1 band, which is where the requested waiver would allow Galileo receivers to operate (at 1559-1591 MHz). Ligado points out that it has worked diligently over the past two years to reach agreements with major GPS manufacturers to advance its proposed terrestrial operations, a proposal that is pending before the FCC.

“It is incumbent upon the EC to demonstrate that the blanket authorization of Galileo devices for use within the United States will not cause interference to Ligado’s existing and anticipated operations adjacent to the E1 band,” the company said in the Feb. 21 filing (PDF). “In particular, the EC must demonstrate that the proposed Galileo operations will neither cause interference to MSS nor require additional interference protections from Ligado’s existing MSS or proposed ATC operations.”

The EC has told the commission that it held discussions with Inmarsat and they agreed that if it is demonstrated that Galileo emissions cause interference to Inmarsat receivers resulting in an impact to Inmarsat service, both parties will coordinate bilaterally to minimize the impacts to Inmarsat services as soon as is feasible within the constraints of the European Union's international obligations.

Others, like Qualcomm and Broadcom, submitted comments in support of the combined GPS + Galileo system, saying it will improve the reliability and accuracy of location data. T-Mobile also argued that allowing U.S. devices to receive Galileo signals will bring benefits to consumers outside the E911 arena.

Location services have become a core part of many smartphone applications, including gaming and ad delivery, and with the future development of autonomous vehicle technologies and the Internet of Things, the need for devices to know exactly where they are at any given time will increase, the carrier said.

The FCC issued its public notice seeking comments about the waiver in January and set a reply comment deadline of March 23. The FCC emphasized from the outset that it agrees with NTIA that authorizing the use of Galileo signals has the potential to bring significant benefits to the American public. But through the public notice, it wants to fully develop a record on the ways in which granting a waiver would serve the public interest.