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A compromise between LightSquared and GPS industry may be possible


Are LightSquared and the GPS industry on the verge of reconciliation? The most surprising thing to emerge from LightSquared’s amended LTE deployment proposal was that it wasn’t completely rebuffed by the Coalition to Save Our GPS.

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There was plenty in the retooled proposal for the coalition to criticize, but the organization of commercial GPS device makers also bookended its criticism with these two statements (CP: GPS Industry lightens its tone over latest LightSquared plan):

“While we are continuing to review this latest proposal by LightSquared, it appears to be a positive step toward reducing, for some devices, the harmful interference to GPS signals confirmed during testing of LightSquared’s earlier incomplete proposals.”
“… To be clear, this proposal may be headed in the right direction, but there are still many questions and many concerns to many users. The quite harmful impacts interference to GPS would cause users must be responsibly, constructively, and completely addressed before LightSquared moves ahead. Even after three tries, there remain substantial gaps in what LightSquared has offered.”

That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, but contrast it to the statement Trimble general counsel and Coalition founding member Jim Kirkland made on June 30 after an FCC technical working group studying the interference issue released its final report (CP: LightSquared lashes back at GPS Industry):

"LightSquared has been saying since November 2010 that interference to GPS is manageable and technical fixes are available. With the filing of the FCC working group report, all the studies are now in and provide consistent and overwhelming evidence that LightSquared`s proposed operations would cause massive interference to every type of GPS device, even devices in outer space. There is no current, existing technology that solves this interference, only unproven claims of hypothetical future fixes. Yet LightSquared still says the same things it said last fall – interference can be "mitigated" and technical solutions will be available in the future. LightSquared has no credibility left, and no one – except those with an economic stake in the outcome – has come forward to support their technical claims.”

Or if you want to sum up the Coalition’s previous position in a nutshell, this June 21 statement form Kirkland will serve: “It is time for LightSquared to move out of the MSS band.”

The change in tone is significant and it would indicate that there may be some common ground between what initially appeared to be two intractable positions (CP: Sorting out the LightSquared GPS interference mess). As the Coalition states, LightSquared has to do a lot more testing and it possibly will need to make more concessions if it wants the GPS industry to sign off on its plans. But what a difference even a begrudging endorsement would make.

LightSquared faces enormous political obstacles if it ever wants to see its LTE network go live in the L-band. In addition to criticism from the commercial GPS industries, government agencies are weighing in before Congress about the havoc the network might play on sensitive government systems from storm tracking to military drone remote guidance. Even if the FCC were to grant LightSquared a green light to build, lawsuits and possibly even Congressional action might stop its deployment in its tracks. If the GPS industry were on board, LightSquared’s life gets a lot easier.

The biggest sticking point appears to be over the several hundred thousand high-precision receivers that reach outside of the GPS bands to gather more accurate signal data from other satellites. The Coalition isn’t convinced that LightSquared has a commercially feasible fix for those aviation, agriculture and construction devices. If LightSquared and its partners come up with such a solution, my bet is the GPS industry will want the carrier to pay for the retrofit.

ut high-precision devices would be a moot issue if LightSquared couldn’t solve the larger interference problem for millions upon millions of commercial navigation, cellular and timing devices in the market. The GPS industry seems to be conceding that guaranteeing lower power levels on the ground might solve the problem. That’s a huge step toward the two sides agreeing on acceptable level of interference and ultimately a compromise.

I wouldn’t hold my breath on the hope that the two sides will find some mutually agreeable solution this month—LightSquared was hoping for approval by mid-September (CP: LightSquared sees no obstacles left blocking LTE network). It may ask the FCC to delay its ruling while it explores further tests with GPS vendors.

We’ll likely know more when LightSquared releases its first public statement pertaining to the amended deployment plan. Recently LightSquared has taken to attacking GPS vendors, claiming their own sloppy receiver designs are responsible for the interference problems. It’s even accused the industry of ignoring guidelines set out by the Department of Defense that would have alleviated those problems (CP: LightSquared plays the patriot card). If it keeps up that rhetoric, LightSquared probably isn’t interested in winning over the GPS vendors. If it tones down its message, it would be a good sign it’s working with GPS on a compromise.


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