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LightSquared to save GPS

Technology could once again save the day, if politics don’t get in the way. According to various news reports, the Global Positioning Systems (GPS) interference issue that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the United States Air Force (USAF) Space Command brought against LightSquared will soon be solved. The solution proposed by LightSquared is a filter and antenna combination that the company explained should be installed in tens of thousands of military devices to avoid signal overlap.

When satellite communications provider LightSquared announced its plans to implement a hybrid 4G and Long Term Evolution (LTE) wireless network across the United States, the FCC granted the company a waiver so that it could begin carrying out the deployment of its 4G-LTE network. In the first quarter of 2011, LightSquared began signing a string of deals with American wireless providers interested in offering mobile broadband solutions to their customers. The providers include Leap Wireless, Cellular South, Best Buy, and even Sprint Nextel.

The FCC waiver granted to LightSquared has been strongly opposed by the NTIA, the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, the USAF Space Command, and manufacturers of consumer GPS equipment such as Garmin. Interference caused by signal overlap is at the heart of the concerns. General William Shelton of the USAF Space Command has delivered testimony to the House Armed Services Committee that underlines the severity of the interference: military GPS receivers operating near LightSquared’s transmitters experienced total loss of GPS.

LightSquared CEO Philip Falcone has placed blame for the interference squarely on a bandwidth issued created by the GPS satellites themselves. Falcone says his company has partnered with technology company Javad GNSS and has set aside millions of dollars for retrofitting military and government receivers with the purported fix provided by the filter and antenna combination.

A spokesman by retail consumer GPS manufacturer Garmin doubts the effectiveness of the proposed fix. According to Garmin, the interference could affect GPS units such as the ones used in vehicles and smartphones these days. LightSquared has yet to address that issue.

But now the interference issue has gone beyond physics and technology. Political donations by LightSquared to the Democratic Party are being questioned, and at General Shelton´s appearance before the House Armed Services Committee he admitted to have been pressured to change his testimony in favor of LightSquared. The company has arranged meetings with a White House technology adviser, but has denied political influence.