Homeland Security and Public Safety

LightSquared and the GPS Industry Struggle to Coexist

Can LightSquared's ambitious new 4G wireless network play nice with vital location services?

 

Others have tried and failed, but with a go-ahead pending from the FCC, one wireless broadband company is a step away from transforming the wireless industry. Backed by billionaire hedge fund manager Philip Falcone, Virginia-based LightSquared has signed a 15-year contract with Sprint Nextel and is ready to begin a cooperative eight-year network build-out that would provide terrestrial and satellite-based 4G-long term evolution (LTE) Internet service to 260 million Americans by the end of 2015.

But the contender has a powerful opponent. LightSquared operates in a band of radio frequency adjacent to GPS, raising fears that the new 4G service could interfere with GPS-based location systems used for public safety, aircraft navigation and other crucial tasks. Indeed, last year, LightSquared’s initial transmissions interfered with GPS receivers — prompting the company to cut both signal strength and the size of its operable spectrum in order to create a buffer between its 4G service and GPS signals.

Additional testing has not yet been done, but analysts predict the changes may eliminate the interference with standard GPS receivers. However, LightSquared still needs to eliminate interference with high-precision receivers, which improve the accuracy of hurricane and earthquake monitoring, as well as farming, construction and surveying equipment. These high-precision GPS receivers account for roughly .5 percent of GPS receivers used nationally.

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