Wireless network outlines plan to protect GPS systems

Posted: 7:17 pm Mon, June 20, 2011

By Associated Press

WASHINGTON — LightSquared, a Virginia-based company that plans to build a nationwide wireless broadband network, is proposing to adapt its network so as not to interfere with GPS systems.

The company plans to move some of its operations to a different slice of airwaves and to transmit signals at lower power levels to ensure that its network would not interfere with GPS systems that rely on nearby wireless spectrum.

The company outlined its plans Monday amid concern that its network would cripple GPS systems used for everything from aviation to public safety to military operations. The announcement follows the recent release of government test results showing that LightSquared’s proposed network would cause serious interference problems for GPS systems.

Those tests showed that wireless signals from LightSquared’s planned network interfered with GPS receivers used by the Coast Guard, NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration and caused GPS receivers used by state police, fire and ambulance crews to lose reception.

“LightSquared believes that its next-generation … network can live harmoniously, side-by-side, with GPS users,” the company said in a release.

In January the Federal Communications Commission gave LightSquared approval to build a nationwide wireless network that would compete with super-fast systems being rolled out by ATT and Verizon. Lightsquared plans to sell wholesale access to its network to other companies that will rebrand the service under their own names.

The FCC sees the LightSquared network as part of a broad government push to bring high-speed Internet connections to all Americans.

LightSquared Chairman and Chief Executive, Sanjiv Ahuja, said Monday that the company remains committed to reaching 260 million Americans by 2015 and is aiming to accelerate that time table by at least a year.

But the company’s plans have alarmed GPS equipment makers, and the many government agencies and companies that rely on GPS systems, because LightSquared’s network would use airwaves right next to those already set aside for GPS. They warn that sensitive satellite receivers — designed to pick up relatively weak signals coming from space — could be overwhelmed when LightSquared starts sending high-powered signals from as many as 40,000 transmitters on the ground.

The FCC has said it will not allow LightSquared to launch its network until the interference problems are resolved. And it has required the company to participate in a technical working group with GPS manufacturers and users to study the matter. That group conducted GPS interference tests using LightSquared equipment in Las Vegas last month.

The results of those tests were due to the FCC last week, but LightSquared filed for a two-week filing extension even as GPS equipment makers say the results showed significant interference problems.

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