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FCC report says it causes GPS interference, so LightSquared files alternative plan

LightSquared, a proposed national wholesale-only integrated wireless broadband and satellite network that has raised billions of investment dollars, has filed an alternative plan with the FCC after being found to cause harmful interference to GPS receivers.

A summary of the FCC working group report released at the end of June found LightSquared’s proposed hybrid 4G wireless network “will cause harmful interference to nearly all GPS receivers and GPS-dependent applications.”

LightSquared had been granted an FCC waiver to build the terrestrial network using satellite spectrum, but the waiver was conditioned on it not interfering with GPS devices on adjacent spectrum. The FCC sees LightSquared as a way of solving the spectrum shortage in wireless broadband.

Last Thursday, LightSquared filed an alternative plan with the FCC that would employ spectrum less adjacent to GPS and at reduced power levels. The company conceded that early tests indicated that the 10MHz block of spectrum it planned to use for its initial nationwide launch did pose an interference risk.

The alternate plan gives up the original spectrum block and will use another spectrum block that “greatly reduces” the interference risk and is located further away from the GPS frequencies. Also, LightSquared said that it will reduce its base station power by more than 50 percent, “which will provide additional protection to GPS.”

“This is a solution which ensures that tens of millions of GPS users won’t be affected by LightSquared’s launch. At the same time, this plan offers a clear path for LightSquared to move forward with the launch of a nationwide wireless network that will introduce world class broadband service to rural and underserved areas which still find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide,’’ said Sanjiv Ahuja, LightSquared’s chairman and CEO, in a statement.

LightSquared has blamed the GPS industry for allowing the interference issue to surface in the first place and for being unwilling to help find an answer. “This is a problem that the GPS industry could have avoided by equipping their devices over the last several years with filters that cost as little as five cents each,” LightSquared said in a news release.

The GPS industry dismissed those claims. “The LightSquared proposal could best be described as public relations pabulum,” Dale Leibach, a representative for a coalition of GPS companies opposing LightSquared plans, told Politico. “Their proposal is unworkable. They need to move to other spectrum that won’t cause massive disruption of GPS.”

The U.S. Department of Commerce, the FAA and opponents on Capitol Hill have also raised concerns about the interference to GPS.

An FCC spokesman said the commission will study the findings and resolve all interference concerns before allowing LightSquared to begin operations. The commission has high hopes for LightSquared. If approved, it would bring Internet service to rural areas and other underserved communities and inject new competition in an increasingly consolidating wireless market.

Investors also have high hopes for the company. Over the past year, LightSquared has raised $2.3 billion in funding.