LightSquared exec says GPS issue will be resolved within a month

SEATTLE--A LightSquared executive told attendees at the Mobile Future Forward conference here that he expects that there will be 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 Martin Harriman, executive vice president at LightSquared, a wholesale LTE provider. "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. 

He also said that the first markets to receive LightSquared's LTE service will not be Phoenix and Denver, as originally planned, because those are not markets that Sprint is doing early in its Network Vision rollout schedule. However, Harriman added that the company is still building a trial network in Baltimore, independent of Sprint, as a way to prove its technology works in the L-Band.

Last week LightSquared presented the FCC with an amended version of its LTE network plan designed to further assuage the concerns of the GPS community over interference. 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.

In addition to the change in power, LightSquared also proposed a solution for satellite-augmented GPS, which is used for precision GPS devices from companies such as Trimble and John Deere. LightSquared suggested permanently using a 4 MHz chunk of spectrum for those services which will provide them with a stable satellite signal. That proposal will give LightSquared time to develop a filtering solution for precision GPS receivers, and the company is looking at antenna replacement or a module modification for legacy precision GPS receivers.

Despite the relatively positive comments from LightSquared, concerns still dog the company. Tim Farrar of research and consulting firm Telecom, Media and Finance Associates pointed to a recent letter from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration  that raises questions about the filters that will be used for LightSquared's planned network. The letter, from NTIA Administrator Lawrence Strickling to deputy secretaries at the Departments of Defense and Transportation, said that NTIA wants to have more tests conducted, and that they be completed by Nov. 30. The letter also states that LightSquared needs to present a filtering solution for precision GPS receivers to federal agencies before more testing on those receivers can be done.

"LightSquared now has to actually manufacture a filter before testing can even begin," Farrar wrote. "That certainly pushes a decision point [on its network deployment] until the summer or fall of 2012 at the very earliest, and more likely than not until after the 2012 presidential election and beyond the end of Chairman Genachowski's term at the FCC. ... LightSquared's proposed filter characteristics also represent a complete abandonment of any prospects of ever using the upper 10 MHz band."

Farrar said the issues highlight concerns about the ability of LightSquared to raise funds for its network buildout.

In a statement, LightSquared CEO Sanjiv Ahuja welcomed the NTIA's new suggested tests. "The NTIA's letter has established a path forward that will finally allow LightSquared to put concerns about the impact of its network on GPS to rest," Ahuja said, according to The Hill. "We have always said that we believe this to be a resolvable engineering issue, and we are completely confident in our ability--working in cooperation with the GPS industry--to find a solution to the interference problem."

For more:
- see this TMF Associates post
- see this National Journal article
- see this The Hill article

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