GM says LightSquared’s new service interferes with its GPS

Craig Trudell and Todd Shields/ Bloomberg News

General Motors Co. is asking U.S. regulators for more testing of Philip Falcone’s LightSquared Inc. wireless network after early trials interfered with vehicle tracking through its OnStar system.

GM wants more testing of ways to mitigate LightSquared’s interference of OnStar’s global-positioning system that can track its 6 million subscribers’ vehicles in the event of crashes and other emergencies, the Detroit-based automaker said Wednesday in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission.

Makers and users of GPS devices from Deere Co. to the Defense Department have said Reston, Va.-based LightSquared may disrupt GPS signals used by mobile phones, aircraft and military equipment. The service, which proposes serving 260 million wireless devices using airwaves once reserved primarily for satellites, may disrupt marine navigation, and concerns have been raised that it may affect air traffic control, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said last week.

GM’s test data show that “harmful interference” of GPS devices by LightSquared “is no longer speculative, but rather is a serious issue that should be thoroughly investigated and resolved,” Thomas Jeffers, OnStar vice president for public policy, and Nikola Pudar, OnStar vice president for business development, said in the letter to FCC Secretary Marlene Dortch.

LightSquared signals disrupted GM’s OnStar and GPS devices used by the Defense Department in 46 tests, a Federal Aviation Administration official told a government advisory board last week. The tests of GPS receivers were conducted in laboratories and outdoors, Deane Bunce told the National Executive Committee for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation Timing, known as PNT.

OnStar found evidence of LightSquared’s network disrupting its GPS system in April, during testing at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, according to the letter.

“We’d love to be part of that testing and validation, and we believe there is potential mitigation solutions specifically geared toward that bandwidth that’s being used out there,” Vijay Iyer, an OnStar spokesman, said in a telephone interview this week.

GM’s OnStar, which provides subscribers with accident alerts, directions and vehicle diagnostics, said solutions include moving the LightSquared service to airwaves farther from those used by GPS. Bunce, who co-chairs an engineering forum that advises PNT, said last week that it may take 7 to 15 years and “considerable expense” to change GPS receivers to accommodate LightSquared.

LightSquared, which is backed by Falcone’s Harbinger Capital Partners hedge fund, received a waiver from the FCC on Jan. 26 allowing the company to proceed while a working group studies possible interference. That panel is scheduled to deliver a final report by today.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee announced last week a June 23 joint hearing into LightSquared by two subcommittees. The LightSquared network is to be ready for commercial service by early 2012, and is to cover 100 million people by the end of next year.

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