LightSquared Claims Government GPS Interference Tests Were Unfair

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2012-01-26 Print this article Print

NEWS ANALYSIS: LightSquared, the hard-pressed company that wants to build a Satellite LTE network, is complaining that the government conducted interference tests in secret and used obsolete and niche devices.

The people who run LightSquared are not happy campers. Of course, they have plenty of reasons for this particular winter of discontent, but in the case of the military testing of LightSquared's interference with GPS devices, they might have a reason. The government testers, the company claims, haven't been playing fair.

Of course, that's kind of a given. Washington rarely plays fair after all. But in the case of LightSquared and the interference tests, the playing field may have been more than a little slanted. The even bigger problem is we can't find out.

Here's what happened. In January of 2010, LightSquared was given a license to deliver satellite-based Long Term Evolution (LTE) data services to resellers contingent on the service not interfering with GPS. While there have been a series of things that should have happened in different ways, what ultimately ended up happening is a series of tests were conducted in the early summer of 2010 by a committee working under the auspices of the Space-Based Positioning Navigation & Timing National Executive Committee.  

The tests showed that LightSquared's data service when operated as then planned would interfere with GPS receivers, mainly because the adjacent channel interference would overwhelm the receivers that are designed to detect the extremely weak timing signals from GPS satellites. LightSquared changed its band usage to only use that portion of its frequencies farthest away from GPS. The tests were rerun by a government technical group, and that group once again said the LightSquared data delivery system interfered with the GPS receivers being tested-and that there was no remediation possible.

Clearly, things didn't look good for LightSquared. The problem is the company says it couldn't obtain the test results, couldn't learn how the test failed and wasn't even present for the test. Considering that LightSquared engineers were part of the original testing done by the PNT group, this is an unexpected difference, and the rationale hasn't been explained.

Since that time, LightSquared has made its displeasure known to anyone who would listen. The testing, the company claimed, shouldn't have been secret, and it should have tested GPS receivers that were the sort of devices that normal consumers are likely to encounter. Worse, the secrecy was such that LightSquared couldn't even find out what actually happened after the tests were completed.

With all of this going on, a source connected with LightSquared made a series of internal emails available to eWEEK. The emails show a clear series of frustrating communications between a LightSquared executive and the U.S. Air Force Space Command, which is conducting the tests.

First the emails complained to The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) that the testing that the Command was conducting was outside of the parameters agreed to by the test plan set up by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and incorporated a different set of devices.

Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazine's Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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