Monday, January 9, 2012

One Per Cent

New act scuppers LightSquared's 4G plans

Jeff Hecht, consultant
rexfeatures_915869c.jpg(Image: Antti Aimo-Koivisto/Rex Features)
In the end, it looks like it will be the military that is going to scupper the deal.
The neverending saga of LightSquared's attempts to set up a 4G broadband service in the 35-megahertz band adjacent to the one used by GPS satellites may finally be nearing its endgame.
A clause buried deep in the 565 pages of the 2012 Defense Authorization act passed in December bars the Federal Communications Commission from approving systems that interfere in any way with military GPS. The bill also tells the FCC to supply Congress with a final copy of the report from its working group, which late last year issued a preliminary report warning that a system proposed by telecoms firm LightSquared of Reston, Virginia would cause serious interference.
Last January, the FCC gave preliminary approval to LightSquared's plan to build 40,000 ground transmitters to transmit 4G wireless signals in a band at 1525 to 1559 MHz, right next to the 1559 to 1610 MHz band where GPS satellites transmit navigation signals. GPS users warned that the new 4G network would create GPS dead zones across the US.
The concern was that signals near the 4G transmitters would be so strong that that would drown out the faint satnav signals reaching the ground. A series of subsequent tests backed up those claims. The problems are worst for the most sensitive receivers, which pick up a broader range of frequencies to increase their accuracy. Those include military and aircraft systems. LightSquared and GPS users have been battling over what to do and who should pay for the changes to allow existing receivers needed to overcome the interference.
The new law is bad news for LightSquared, because it bans approval of the system unless all GPS interference can be eliminated. With massive budget cuts in the offing, the Pentagon is unlikely to foot the bill. And Sprint has suspended a planned deal to cooperate with LightSquared on the proposed network until questions about regulatory approval can be resolved.
But 4G users shouldn't worry too much if the plan fails. LightSquared's band is only one of 25 set aside for 4G service.


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