GPS receiver standards have been an unspoken need for some time, but the recent conflict between the GPS industry and the LightSquared company has brought them into the public eye.
LightSquared is a company that hopes to develop a wireless broadband Internet network. To carry its signal, it purchased the L-band spectrum of bandwidth from the FCC. The company would send Internet data to its satellite, which would then send it back down to a receiver system. The signal would then be transmitted to users by means of ground stations. When the process was tested, it worked well, except for one small difficulty. The signals caused interference with all kinds of GPS receivers. As a result, the FCC did not approve LightSquared’s setup, and the company eventually declared bankruptcy. Despite the poor outcome for the company, the entire situation brought to light a bigger concern.
GPS devices have been developed and manufactured for years without having any definite GPS receiver standards. As a result, most GPS receivers do not operate strictly within their own bandwidth. This means that when a signal is sent using a neighboring bandwidth, it interferes with the operation of the GPS receiver instead of being rejected as it should. It appears that LightSquared’s system caused interference not because it was operating outside its prescribed bandwidth, but rather because GPS receivers were not adequately constructed to reject signals from outside the GPS bandwidth.
Since this problem was brought to public attention, there has been some political discussion as to how it should be solved. In fact, a process to establish standards for GPS receivers has already been started. How they will be established and enforced and whether they will be applied to already-existing devices has yet to be determined.
These standards will likely be too late to help the rejected LightSquared system, but there are rumors that the company will emerge from bankruptcy and try again to implement its idea. This time, though, it will likely use a setup that has no connection to the GPS spectrum. Regardless of their impact on LightSquared, GPS receiver standards are most likely here to stay and will be very helpful as the industry continues to develop and expand.