Saturday, January 14, 2012

Setback for LightSquared

The Wall Street Journal

WASHINGTON—A government advisory board concluded that start-up LightSquared's proposed wireless network would significantly interfere with GPS devices, in a setback for the multibillion-dollar plan.

In a letter Friday to the Commerce Department, the board also said it saw no quick way to fix the problems.

The letter came from the Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing national executive committee, which is made up of nine federal agencies that coordinate GPS issues.

Based on two rounds of tests by federal agencies and separate tests by the Federal Aviation Administration, the group said it had unanimously concluded that LightSquared's original and modified network plans "would cause harmful inference to many GPS receivers."

"Based upon this testing and analysis, there appear to be no practical solutions or mitigations that would permit the LightSquared broadband service, as proposed, to operate in the next few months or years without significantly interfering with GPS," the group wrote.

The group has no formal say over LightSquared's plans, but its announcement Friday is a blow to the start-up, which needs to persuade regulators that its network won't hobble Defense Department and other critical GPS systems.

In a statement, LightSquared said "government testing has become unfair and shrouded from the public eye," and said the government advisory board was too close to the GPS industry to make a fair recommendation. LightSquared called for the Commerce Department and the FCC to re-evaluate the test results with "unbiased officials and engineers." The company also threatened legal action.

LightSquared wants to build a national 4G wireless network that would offer wholesale broadband service to corporate customers like Best Buy Co. and other wireless providers.

GPS users and manufacturers have raised concerns that LightSquared's proposed network would knock out navigation devices because its airwaves are close to GPS frequencies. The start-up has made several changes to its plans over the past year in an effort to resolve the interference issues. It has also introduced technologies that it says will solve those problems.

The start-up needs approval from the Federal Communications Commission before it can launch its wireless network. The agency has been awaiting a report from the Commerce Department, which controls government airwaves, about the potential impact of LightSquared's network on government agencies.

A Commerce Department spokeswoman said the advisory group's recommendation will "help inform" the agency's final recommendation, but it is still conducting its analysis.

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