The Power Principle

Can the GPS industry fight off frequency interference?

August 31, 2011

When I first heard that a satellite mobile-broadband company had applied to the FCC to use a frequency spectrum that could greatly interfere with GPS systems, I thought: That’s preposterous. That’ll never happen.

Planes would collide, ships would wander aimlessly, military targets would vanish and disabled boats would flounder at sea.

Since that time, about five months ago, I’ve learned what a naïve cog I truly may be. No, the FCC hasn’t granted permission to that broadband company — LightSquared — to start what it calls the boundless opportunity of wireless broadband connectivity. But the issue remains undecided.


A recent public-input period expired on August 15. Shortly after, the FCC asked both the GPS community and LightSquared to submit more documentation. The GPS community through posts the latest news stories on its website to educate the public and remind media of this ongoing struggle.

The main red flag I spotted as I read through the reports and scanned the website was this statement printed in an article on “The company’s (LightSquared’s) land-based network will provide 4G speeds, while its satellite network will provide reception nearly everywhere in the country.”

Gulp. Add to that the flush pockets of LightSquared’s banker — a private-equity fund run by a billionaire — and you have the essence of a capitalistic conundrum: a product that promises cutting-edge performance (and jobs and economic vitality) plus a moneyed political lobby versus government agencies and a handful of private companies.


At this writing, the latest spat has LightSquared suggesting that GPS makers should fix the interference problem. GPS makers say there is no fix and that the interference comes from LightSquared; therefore GPS companies are not responsible.

Bottom line: Media coverage and a concerned voting public must keep preaching awareness. If you haven’t already, visit and join the coalition. Read a March 2011 blog about this issue from our senior electronics editor Ben Ellison at Search for LightSquared.


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