LightSquared Says GPS Tests ‘Rigged’

RESTON, VA.: LightSquared says government tests of its network were “rigged” by manufacturers of global positioning systems, and charged the test committee advisory board with conflict of interest.

“We believe the testing is invalid,” said LightSquared’s executive vice president for regulatory affairs and public policy, Jeff Carlisle.

LightSquared is circling the wagons after the co-chairman of the test committee said last week that no mitigation could prevent interference to GPS by LightSquared’s proposed wireless broadband network.

Carlisle said this most recent round of tests were “shrouded in secrecy,” and that GPS manufacturers were allowed to “cherry-pick” devices that were, in some cases, obsolete. “There were nondisclosure agreements with government agencies, preventing input from LightSquared and others. There was no way to ensure basic controls were being implemented,” he said.

LightSquared said the test committee worked out an agreement with Trimble, a Sunnyvale, Calif., GPS manufacturer, to exclude LightSquared from the process. Trimble is also a founding member of the Coalition to Save Our GPS, a lobby formed to fight LightSquared. Dr. Brad Parkinson, a director for Trimble, is a member of the test committee advisory board. LightSquared last week filed a complaint with the NASA Investigator General’s office charging conflict of interest.

The LightSquared camp also said the test committee used an arbitrary interference metric of 1 dB, which constituted a very low threshold of failure only detectable in a lab; and that tests were conducted using 32 times the power level proposed by LightSquared.

“The original test parameters were selected for failure,” said Ed Thomas, a former chief engineer with the Federal Communications Commission who is now consulting for LightSquared. “It was the classic example of the college student in the laboratory drawing the curve before they did the test.”

LightSquared is calling for tests to be performed by an independent lab, with oversight by the FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which manages the spectrum.

“There should be no secrecy in this process,” said Geoff Stearn, vice president of spectrum development for LightSquared.

LightSquared has around $3 billion on the line plus a network-sharing deal with Sprint, which is poised to pull out by the end of this month if the feds don’t grant approval for the network. Carlisle said the company was in talks with Sprint, but that LightSquared was also prepared to build out its own terrestrial infrastructure.

“We’re advising Sprint,” Carlisle said. “We were originally financed to build out on our own. If we have to go back to that, we can explore that. We hope to go forward with Sprint.”

The network would require around 40,000 terrestrial base stations transmitting next to spectrum occupied by GPS devices. LightSquared obtained a waiver for the base stations from the FCC about a year ago on the condition that it demonstrated noninterference with GPS devices.

A battle has since ensued between LightSquared and the GPS community. LightSquared modified its original proposal after initial test showed interference. It said it would reduce power levels and launch on the half of its spectrum farthest from the band used by GPS. Subsequent tests managed by the National Executive Committee for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing Systems Engineering Forum--ExCom for short--determined that the modification didn’t adequately prevent interference.

“It is the unanimous conclusion of the test findings by the National Space-Based PNT ExCom Agencies that both LightSquared’s original and modified plans for its proposed mobile network would cause harmful interference to many GPS receivers,” ExCom co-chairs Ashton B. Carter, Deputy Secretary of Defense; and John D. Porcari, Deputy Secretary of Transportation, wrote in a Jan. 13 letter to NTIA Assistant Secretary Larry Strickling. They concluded that “no additional testing is warranted at this time.”

The NTIA has yet to make its recommendation to the FCC, which has the final say on whether LightSquared can launch its network.

“The FCC could look at the test result, agree with LightSquared, and say this is a travesty,” Thomas said. “At the end of the day, the FCC has the authority, and only the obligation of consultation. I believe the FCC will try to find other options to move forward here.”

LightSquared engaged Alcatel Lucent to test precision GPS devices and released preliminary results last month concluding that “LightSquared’s planned terrestrial deployment is fully compatible with GPS operations, even for the highest precision equipment available on the commercial market.” 

The U.S. GPS Industry Council shot back that prototypes were used in the Alcatel Lucent tests and that results were not conclusive. Carlisle said the full results of those tests would be released by the end of this month.

LightSquared’s launch has been delayed now for nearly a year over GPS interference issues. Dozens of wholesale customers have signed up, but the company is burning through capital waiting for regulatory approval, leading some to speculate about bankruptcy. Reuters reported Dec. 19 that LightSquared was running low on cash. It said the company’s financial statement indicated it would need to raise “substantial capital beyond the beginning of the second quarter of 2012 in order to have sufficient liquidity.”

Geoff Stearn, vice president of spectrum development for LightSquared, said “We have enough money to last several quarters. We’re not trying to raise money right now.”
~Deborah D. McAdams

See “LightSquared’s Travails Mount.”