FCC Delays LightSquared Launch
September 13, 2011
WASHINGTON: The Federal Communications Commission today said LightSquared could
not yet launch its broadband service. The commission issued a Public Notice supporting
the a Commerce Department official's recent request for further testing of LightSquared’s proposed
satellite-terrestrial broadband network and its impact on global positioning systems.
The commission gave LightSquared approval last January for the Ancillary Terrestrial
Component of its operation on the condition that it not interfere with GPS. That
condition remains intact, the FCC said, and noninterference has yet to be established
to the satisfaction of the far-flung GPS community.
“LightSquared may not commence ATC operations until the commission, in consultation
with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, finds that
GPS interference concerns have been satisfactorily resolved,” the
stated. “Following extensive comments received as a result of the technical working group process
required by the International Bureau’s Order and Authorization dated Jan. 26, 2011,
the FCC, in consultation with NTIA, has determined that additional targeted testing
is needed to ensure that any potential commercial terrestrial services offered by
LightSquared will not cause harmful interference to GPS operations.”
LightSquared has been working against the clock to resolve GPS interference issues.
The privately funded company planned to offer service this year, creating the nation’s
first nationwide 4G LTE network with terrestrial and satellite coverage. Intended
as a wholesale-only offer, LightSquared already has more than a dozen customers
ready to resell access to its network. Meanwhile, the company is burning through
cash. LightSquared is funded primarily by Harbinger Capital, a New York-based hedge
fund run by Philip Falcone, who founded LightSquared. Harbinger has put in a reported
$2.9 billion. A network-sharing deal with Sprint alone will cost LightSquared $9
billion in cash and $4.5 billion in service credits over an 11-year period.
LightSquared executives expected regulatory approval this month after a revised
operational plan was submitted in June. LightSquared offered to launch in the lower
10 MHz of its spectrum, leaving a 10 MHz buffer band next to the frequencies where
GPS devices operate. The company also said it would launch the terrestrial part of its
operation at significantly reduced power. The FCC consequently sought feedback on
the revised proposal, prompting support from municipalities in need of broadband,
but a hue and cry from GPS users, including farmers, aviators, land surveyors and
international users, among others. More than 3,300 comments have been filed in the
FCC’s LightSquared docket in less than three months.
“The results thus far from the testing using the lower 10 MHz showed significant improvement compared to tests of the upper
10 MHz, although there continue to be interference concerns, e.g., with certain
types of high-precision GPS receivers, including devices used in national security
and aviation applications. Additional tests are therefore necessary,” the FCC’s
Last Friday, the NTIA’s Lawrence Strickling sent a
letter to the
Departments of Defense and Transportation, urging them to commence joint testing
with LightSquared on its revised operational plan as soon as possible--sort of. His communiqué initially requests
that testing be completed by Nov. 30, but later waffles on the date because of an
additionally proposed fix for high-precision devices.
noted that LightSquared was “undertaking to procure the design and manufacture of
a filter to mitigate these unacceptable impacts.” He said LightSquared agreed
to allow the federal agencies to test and evaluate the filters.
“Given this commitment, we see no reason for any further testing of high-precision
receivers until LightSqured presents its filtering solution to the federal agencies
for testing and evaluation,” Strickling’s letter stated. “At that time, the federal
agencies will need to develop and execute a plan to test and analyze LightSquared’s
In closing, Strickling said “given the open issues that remain with respect to precision
and timing receivers, this work need not be completed by Nov. 30.”
Deborah D. McAdams