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GPS industry lightens its tone over latest LightSquared plan


09/09/2011

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In attempt to find a technical compromise with its GPS industry adversaries, LightSquared is proposing to amend its mobile broadband network deployment plans to reduce power levels and designate a special band for high-precision GPS receivers—moves LightSquared claims would eliminate most remaining inteference problems between its network and GPS devices.

LightSquared has amended its plans in the past in order to make its proposed long-term evolution (LTE) network more palatable to regulators and the GPS industry (CP: LightSquared proposes trading half its network for FCC approval). But the Save Our GPS Coalition has rebuffed all of LightSquared’s overtures in the past, saying that none of its technical plans addressed the fundamental interference problems that would plague GPS receivers if the network went live.

Significantly, the Coalition didn’t shoot down this proposal outright. It hardly endorsed it, claiming that the interference concerns surrounding high-precision receivers are still unresolved, but the coalition did say the proposal appeared to be “a positive step”, and it seemed open to idea of testing the new network configuration further. That’s a big change of tone from the Coalition’s previous statements, which have called for the FCC to ban LightSquared from the mobile satellite services bands completely.

Specifically LightSquared’s new proposal (FCC: Operational and Design Solutions for GPS devices) calls for limiting power-on-the-ground from its LTE networks to -30 dBm (the measured power in decibels relative to a single milliwatt). LightSquared’s testing concluded if it maintains those or lower power levels 50 meters from its transmission sites, no general location, timing or cellular GPS receiver would encounter any problems grabbing GPS satellite signals. LightSquared believes it even has a bit of leeway, which would allow it to gradually increase that threshold to -24 dBm by 2017.

That technical fix, however, doesn’t solve the problem of high-precision receivers which use augmentation signals in the middle of LightSquared’s L-band spectrum to get more accurate location data (CP: Sorting out the LightSquared GPS interference mess). Those receivers, used by agriculture, construction and many other industries, receive the full range of frequencies between GPS and their augmentation bands, which would cause them to be flooded by LightSquared’s high-powered LTE signals. LightSquared, has maintained that GPS device makers sloppy receiver designs are responsible for that problem, but it has proposed a retrofit of all current high-precision receivers to block out its LTE signals. LightSquared’s amended proposal reiterates its call for that retrofit, but also proposes creating a new common band for augmentation satellite signals.

The proposed augmentation band would sit adjacent to GPS between 1555 MHz and 1559 MHz. Currently augmentation signals are all over the MSS bands—some are even carried over LightSquared’s satellites—and aggregating them into a single band would allow to LightSquared to utilize its spectrum as contiguous block. But it would also allow GPS device makers to design their receivers without special blocking filters, since there would be no LTE network in between GPS and augmentation frequencies to contend with.
While the GPS industry seemed generally encouraged by LightSquared’s power-reduction proposal it remained dubious about its high-precision receiver fix. Here are excerpts from the statement released by the Saved Our GPS Coalition:

“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.

“Even if additional testing confirms that LightSquared’s third proposal will reduce interference to some devices, it still leaves a huge gap because it does not claim to solve interference to high-precision GPS receivers, many of which were designed to use satellite services provided by LightSquared in the MSS band. This critical group of users, including those in agriculture and construction, contributes $30 billion in economic benefits each year. …

“The millions of GPS devices and systems currently in use by consumers, businesses and critical government users remain at risk until all the problems demonstrated with LightSquared’s system are resolved. GPS is an integral part of critically important safety-of-life systems and generates economic activity supporting millions of jobs. With lives and jobs at stake, there is no room for predictions and guesswork when it comes to GPS interference.

“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. ”

The Coalition isn’t treating LightSquared with kid gloves, but it’s not dismissing its results entirely either. The statement went on to criticize the testing methodology LightSquared used, but it held onto the possibility that further study might validate the carrier`s results. “The testing of the configuration that LightSquared now proposes to use–the lower 10 MHz of its spectrum–was only conducted on a limited basis shortly before the conclusion of testing,” the Coalition said. “More complete testing is now needed to confirm the preliminary results on which LightSquared’s proposal is based.”

The Coalition’s more moderate stance comes just as more government pressure comes to bear on LightSquared. At Congressional hearings on Thursday, lawmakers criticized the FCC for granting LightSquared even conditional permission to build its LTE network, while a bevy of government officials from different federal agencies testified about the huge potential harm an interfering LTE network would cause to critical government capabilities, such as hurricane tracking and even military remote drone operation.
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