The Washington Post

LightSquared interferes with GPS: Report

LightSquared’s wireless network interferes with global positioning systems, according to tests the company and the GPS industry submitted to federal regulators Thursday.

But that’s where their agreement ends.

LightSquared, a startup created by hedge fund investor Philip Falcone, said it still thinks it can figure out a way to get its satellite-based mobile broadband network to work without knocking out GPS receivers. Among other things, the company says filtering technology — for its own devices and for GPS devices — can help reduce interference.

But the GPS industry disagrees.

“There is no existing technology that solves this interference, only unproven claims of hypotehtical future fixes,” said Jim Kirkland, vice president of GPS firm Trimble.

The FCC said it won’t allow LightSquared to launch its business until the interference issues are resolved. Spokesman Neil Grace said the agency will review the report it received Thursday.

“The FCC has a long-standing record of resolving interference disputes based on engineering data,” Grace said. “Our nation cannot afford to let spectrum go underutilized. America's economic growth and global competitiveness are on the line.”

Much is at stake in Falcone’s venture. His firm, Harbinger Ventures, put about $3 billion into the mobile broadband firm. LightSquared, based in Reston, has signed wholesale wireless leasing agreements with Leap Wireless and Best Buy. UBS and JP Morgan put $586 million into the firm this year.

The company has touted its potential to bring more competition to the telecom industry. Its satellite service can provide mobile broadband service to rural areas. If you are a game console maker or big-box retailer, you can lease LightSquared’s wireless network and bypass carriers such as AT&T and Verizon. Consumer groups have lamented a potential decline of competition among wireless carriers with AT&T’s bid to merge with T-Mobile.

The tests, required by the FCC, showed significant interference. Construction companies such as Caterpillar and John Deere said interference could potentially lead a tractor to run into a gas line. The aviation industry warned that flight safety was jeopardized.

But LightSquared asked the GPS industry to cooperate to find ways for both technologies to co-exist.

“This issue will be resolved by good data, smart engineers and good-faith problem-solving dialog,” said Sanjiv Ahuja, LightSquared CEO.

This post has been updated since it was first published.

Cecilia Kang is a senior technology correspondent for The Washington Post.



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