LightSquared’s multi-billion dollar plan for a national 4G wireless network faced a major blow on Friday when the Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing national executive committee concluded that the network would severely interfere with GPS devices.
Based on two rounds of tests by federal agencies and separate tests by the FAA, the committee, consisting of nine federal agencies responsible for coordinating GPS issues, was unanimous in their conclusion. The committee wrote, “Based upon this testing and analysis, there appear to be no practical solutions or mitigations that would permit the LightSquared broadband service, as proposed, to operate in the next few months or years without significantly interfering with GPS.”
The proposed national 4G network would offer wholesale broadband service to corporate customers, including numerous wireless providers. LightSquared has raised concerns that “government testing has become unfair and shrouded from the public eye,” and stated that the government advisory board was too closely associated with the GPS industry to be fair. LightSquared has asked the Commerce Department and FCC to re-evaluate the results with “unbiased officials and engineers” and has threatened legal recourse.
Though the committee doesn’t have any formal say over LightSquared’s plans, it will make convincing regulators that its network won’t cripple the Department of Defense and other critical GPS systems a much greater challenge. Manufacturers and users of GPS have concerns that the proposed network would stifle navigation devices because its airwaves are close to GPS frequencies. In response to these concerns, the start-up made numerous changes to its plans and introduced technologies over the past year in an attempt to resolve the interference concerns.
Approval from the Federal Communications Commission is required before LightSquared can launch its network. The FCC is currently awaiting a report from the Commerce Department on the possible impact of the network on government agencies. A spokeswoman for the Commerce Department stated that though the advisory committee’s recommendation will “help inform” the agency’s final recommendation, it is still conducting its own analysis.