LightSquared Halted in Its Tracks

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The saga continues for LightSquared as members of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Energy and the Commerce’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation discuss the controversy over a nationwide wireless mobile broadband network causing interference with the receivers used by global positioning systems. Although they have filed for bankruptcy, LightSquared is hoping for some return on its $4 billion investment.



The Beginning

In March 2010, LightSquared gained control of the L-Band Spectrum in the 1525-1559 MHz block. This spectrum sits just below the GPS spectrum and was originally designated for low-power satellite transmissions that would not interfere with GPS receivers. The company applied for a government waiver to use its spectrum for high-power, ground-only transmissions to create a cellular network for iPhones and other such wireless devices. LightSquared received a conditional waiver in January 2011; it could build its network as long as it did not interfere with GPS devices. A problem arose, however, when switching from a satellite only spectrum to a terrestrial one.



The Ending

Makers of GPS-enabled devices raised the alarm about receiver interference from LightSquared’s spectrum, so the NTIA stepped in to test for problems. The National Telecommunication and Information Administration found that GPS receivers were indeed harmed by the higher-powered cellular network, and fears over public safety in light of this data resulted in the withdrawal of the Federal Communication Commission’s waiver. The FCC has as its top priority the protection of the public, so any interference with GPS signals for emergency personnel or air traffic control could pose a serious problem for public safety. Even LightSquared’s offer to use only the lower 10 MHz raised concern, and the company was again denied.



Another Beginning?

The Committee on Energy blames the FCC for letting LightSquared get too far along in the process, but they also regret the loss of another technologies company. Representatives admit that they do not have the expertise to fully ascertain the significance of the controversy, but they are willing to look at viable options that will allow LightSquared to continue its mission of building a cellular network. One possibility under discussion is a spectrum swap done under government supervision that would preserve the reliability of GPS receivers in their designated spectrum.

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Hillary Mayfield

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