LightSquared claims GPS industry rigged tests

LightSquared says its LTE network was tested against obsolete GPS devices

LightSquared's proposed mobile data network was set up to fail in tests of interference with GPS that were conducted last November under government auspices, the would-be cellular carrier charged on Wednesday.

Makers of GPS (Global Positioning System) equipment put old and incomplete GPS receivers in the test so the results would show interference, under the cover of non-disclosure agreements that prevented the public and third parties from analyzing the process, LightSquared executives said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday morning.

BACKGROUND: LightSquared seeks probe of GPS advisory board member

MORE: LightSquared says GPS has to accept interference

The charges fleshed out a series of claims by the company that the approval process for its LTE (Long-Term Evolution) network is unfair. LightSquared is seeking a waiver from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that requires all harmful interference with GPS to be resolved. The FCC is working with the NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration) to evaluate the interference problem.

Though the November tests were ordered by the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing Executive Committee (PNT ExComm) and conducted at an Air Force base, GPS vendors were allowed to choose what devices would be tested for interference, LightSquared said. The vendors deliberately chose obsolete and niche GPS devices that would show the most interference, the company claimed. The tests also included receivers that were tested without interference filters that normally would be included in a complete device for consumers, according to LightSquared.

And because all participants were bound to non-disclosure agreements, those details were not disclosed to the public or to LightSquared, said Jeffrey Carlisle, the company's vice president of regulatory affairs and public policy. LightSquared has since learned what devices were used but can't disclose those itself because of a non-disclosure agreement, Carlisle said.

"We believe that the testing is invalid," Carlisle said.

The Coalition to Save Our GPS, which represents many GPS vendors and opposes LightSquared's plan, rejected the company's claims and defended the tests.

"The technical evidence speaks for itself and no individual, company or government body can legitimately be blamed for the clear defects of LightSquared's ill-conceived proposal," the group said in a statement Wednesday.

LightSquared also wants the standard for interference in the testing raised above the current 1dB threshold. A GPS device could receive that level of interference from everyday objects, such as trees and highway overpasses, without any effect on its performance, said Geoff Stearn, LightSquared's vice president of spectrum development. Tests conducted earlier last year by a working group that included LightSquared came to that conclusion, he said.

In addition, LightSquared said the November tests did not take into account a reduction in power that the company had already pledged before they took place. The LTE radios in the tests delivered 32 times as much power as LightSquared will actually use in its base stations, according to Stearn. The big difference in power between LTE and the weaker, distant satellites that GPS receivers listen for is a key reason for interference concerns.

Though the test results have not been released, on Friday the PNT ExComm said it had concluded from the results that LightSquared's network could not be made compatible with GPS. It recommended no more tests take place, even though a further round of tests, for high-precision GPS gear, had been expected to take place this month.

LightSquared wants the FCC and NTIA to move forward to that next phase immediately, but have the tests conducted by an independent lab and the results made available to the public, Stearn said.

Though LightSquared said it has enough funding to keep operating for "several quarters," the company aims to launch its network this year and faces a deadline from its network-building partner, Sprint Nextel, to get FCC approval by the end of this month. On the call, LightSquared said it believed that a new round of more accurate testing could be carried out by the end of February.

"We believe that this process is far from over," said Terry Neal, senior vice president of public relations and communications. The company repeated its pledge to fight an adverse decision.

"We will move forward to enforce our legal rights" if the project is blocked, Carlisle said. "There are lots of options on the table for that."

The FCC declined to comment on the validity of the tests.

"We are awaiting completion of recommendations from NTIA. As we have said from the outset, the FCC will not lift the prohibition on LightSquared to begin commercial operations unless harmful interference issues are resolved," FCC spokeswoman Tammy Sun said via email.

PNT ExComm will send the test results and findings to the NTIA for consideration and then submit them to the FCC along with NTIA's recommendations. The information that the NTIA sends to the FCC will be released publicly through the PNT National Coordination office.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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