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Could broadband upgrades put GPS out of commission?

 

By KEVIN WALKER
Michigan Correspondent

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The federal government has a plan to bring broadband services to more of America, including underserved areas in rural and urban parts of the United States. One company, LightSquared, sees itself on the cutting edge of a technological revolution similar in scope and importance to the electrification of the country and universal telephony.

The company, formerly called MSV and then SkyTerra, has been granted tentative permission to use more bandwidth that will allow it to provide more cellular and satellite service to other companies, that will then sell services to retail customers.

“What LightSquared is about is democratization of wireless broadband in the United States,” said Sanjiv Ahuja, chair and CEO of LightSquared. “The first open network that’s accessible to everybody; fast, wireless, the kind of experience you’ve had connected to a wired network.

“Now you have it with a wireless network. And beyond that, anywhere in the United States, no matter where you are, if you step out of your car, in the Yellowstone National Park, if it’s in the middle of Grand Canyon, you have voice connectivity, and you can get your e-mails; never been done before. That’s what LightSquared is all about. It’s unleashing the power of wireless broadband to every consumer in the United States.”

This sounds like a wonderful thing – but some are worried LightSquared’s network is going to interfere with global positioning systems (GPS) if it’s turned on. The main issue is the network will use satellite spectrum as well as cellular towers, according to Jim Kirkland, vice president of Trimble Navigation, a maker of GPS devices.

“We believe it presents insurmountable interference issues,” Kirkland said. “If you’re going to build 40,000 stations, it’s a big deal. Those GPS receivers get put in a lot of farm equipment.”

Kirkland also complained that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) granted a waiver to LightSquared to implement its new network, but then provided insufficient time for public comment. “It has been very short and very sudden,” he said. “We think the public comment is very important. It’s an important issue. That’s why you’re seeing such an outcry. All these people are mobilizing.”

Jeffrey Carlisle, vice president for regulatory affairs at LightSquared, said this issue of interference and their network is “not a new thing. Our service was authorized in 2003.”

Carlisle is chair of a technical working group that was organized by the FCC to help stakeholders work through these problems. He said all the major GPS manufacturers are part of the group.

“We’ve got a very broad representation on the board,” he added.
Carlisle went on to say other board members have to arrive at a consensus, although the obligation is on LightSquared to make the report to the FCC. The report is due by June 15. “The FCC will take some time afterward to make a decision,” he said.

He acknowledged that “it’s possible that some (GPS) units can be subject to that interference.”

According to LightSquared, U.S. wireless data usage is expected to increase 40-fold in the next four years. In the last year, the U.S. fell from 17th to 20th worldwide in broadband deployment; today, just 5 percent of wireless users consume 70 percent of existing wireless capacity, and the U.S. ranks 18th globally in average broadband speed.

For more on LightSquared, visit www.lightsquared.com and for more on the Save Our GPS coalition, go to http://saveourgps.org

3/30/2011