GPS Is In Jeopardy!

LightSquared Transmitters Block GPS Signals

Randy NolandIn a recent article, we asked the question, “Is GPS in Jeopardy?”  It can now be said with no doubt that the answer is YES!  According to reports by entities that have been impacted and after extensive testing, there is no question that the terrestrial transmitters proposed by LightSquared and conditionally approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would ruin GPS signals in proximities up to several hundreds of miles.  In fact, the test results are worse than expected even though the LightSquared transmitters that are available to be tested against are only broadcasting at 1/10th of their authorized power output.  Unless there is some magic that LightSquared intends to unveil that would mitigate the effects of their transmitters to the GPS L1 frequency, this deviation from due process being fast-tracked by the FCC should be derailed.

 On January 26, 2011, the FCC granted LightSquared a conditional license to install high power transmitters that will broadcast signals much more powerful than and directly adjacent to the primary GPS signal.  The FCC is charged with managing the frequency allocation of licensees to ensure maximum compatibility and yet they have seemed nonchalant to the obvious impact the LightSquared signals will have to users of GPS.  The guidance of heavy equipment and machinery has become reliant on this technology and yet the service may become unusable in the coming months and years rendering billions of dollars in infrastructure worthless.  Why?  GPS has been a proven tool in global use for the past 30 years.  Why put it all at risk? 

 LightSquared transmitters:  1529 – 1559 MHz @ high power
GPS L1 receivers:  1575.42 MHz @ very low power

One of the first things a police detective learns when performing an investigation is to follow the money.  Money is a powerful motivator that can never be under estimated.  As you begin to look at the money in this situation, several disturbing things come into view.  LightSquared was established by the Harbinger Capital hedge fund after it purchased the distressed company SkyTerra which possessed an FCC license for satellite transmissions.  The Harbinger Capital hedge fund is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on at least five different matters including market manipulation, violation of short selling rules and a questionable $113 million dollars loan.

 Julius Genachowski Head of FCC
LightSquared has already signed deals with SI Wireless, Cellular South, Leap Wireless and Best Buy.  GPS does not even seem to be on the docket for LightSquared.  When asked by Cecelia Kang of the Washington Post about launch dates and the concerns surrounding GPS, LightSquared CEO, Sanjiv Ahuja, answered “We are on track. And we expect to reach over 100 million pops next year and 92 percent of the population by 2015. Today, our plan is to exceed that as well. Beyond that 92 percent is rural consumers, and we will be able to reach them as well.”  Does he sound concerned about GPS?

Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T had to spend millions of dollars each and spend much more time obtaining their licenses for cellular transmissions.  LightSquared was grandfathered into their license through the purchase of SkyTerra and approval from the FCC.  The usual FCC process is to conduct extensive testing prior to approvals.  For LightSquared, the process was approve first, then test.  Strange.

As stated above, the threats to GPS are no longer theoretical.  They’re real.  On May 11, after conducting tests with actual LightSquared generated signals at Holloman Air Force Base, the State of New Mexico concluded “…the attached reports substantiate concerns that the LightSquared network will cause interference to GPS signals and jeopardize 911 and public safety nationwide.”  Eyewitnesses reported that during the testing process, some equipment was limited to only being able to see 7 satellites at any location and upon moving 50 yards from our position at the test site towards the tower were diminished to 3 or 4 satellites and at 60 yards, unable to establish any satellite connections.  (This is still approximately 1/8 of a mile from the tower.) The Federal Aviation Administration issued a warning to aviators in the Las Vegas, Nevada area stating:  GPS service in one area of Nevada could be "unreliable or unavailable" from May 16-27.  During this time, broadband wholesaler LightSquared will be testing whether a signal from one of its proposed 40,000 towers upsets satellite navigation. (NGS Weekly newsletter, May 18th, 2011)

According to Mr. Ahuja, LightSquared has 10 billion dollars to invest and subscribers waiting in line for the fee based service.  How much do you pay for your cell phone subscription?  $100 per month?  How much do you pay for your GPS subscription?  Oh yeah.  It’s free.  This point is at the crux of the issue.

A formal report from LightSquared to the FCC must be submitted by June 15.  The machine control industry will take several steps backwards if the impacts to GPS are not mitigated.  Are you ready to start pounding wood stakes and set up your rotating laser again?  Make your voice heard.  There are many different voices of opposition, but they seem to lack the clout of LightSquared.  Why?  Be assured that will continue to keep you informed.

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