Whats the Solution?

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2011-06-13 Print this article Print


Fortunately, FCC Chairman Julius Genanchowski has now said that the FCC will not authorize commercial operations for LightSquared until the GPS interference issue is resolved. The problem is that finding a resolution won't be easy or cheap. The solution recommended by the government agencies studying the problem is for LightSquared to move its operations to frequencies that aren't adjacent to GPS. Considering the amount of money that LightSquared has sunk into its service, this isn't a popular alternative.

The other option most frequently mentioned is to equip all GPS receivers with filters to block LightSquared or to design new GPS receivers and replace existing receivers with new ones. Considering that perhaps there are hundreds of millions of GPS receivers in the world that would be impacted, it's hard to take this suggestion seriously, especially since it's LightSquared that's creating the interference.

There are other options: LightSquared can put filters on its transmitters. It can only use the bottom half of its spectrum, which interferes less. It can use lower power. It can use some combination of all three methods. Or it can be sent to a different frequency band.

As you can see, there are no really practical answers here. The tests that demonstrated LightSquared's interference with GPS could have been conducted years ago, long before the company had sunk an estimated $14 billion into the project. The FCC could have been more responsible by requiring the tests to be conducted before it let LightSquared begin building out its system. GPS makers could have used their magical powers to see the future and designed around LightSquared.

So now clearly we're in a conundrum caused by the government's haste to see its dream of broadband everywhere realized and caused by a disregard of obvious consequences by a company in a hurry. There are no good answers, but perhaps there's a workable solution.

First, tell LightSquared that it can only use the bottom half of its spectrum for transmitting its information and even there it can only do so in a way that doesn't interfere with GPS in any way, even a little. This may mean reducing power, filtering, antenna design and reducing the transmitter density. Next, tell GPS makers that from now on they have to design their receivers with better rejection of adjacent frequencies. After a decade or so, it should be safe for LightSquared to ease into full operation, subject, of course, to testing along every step of the way.

The sad part is that a widespread means of delivering broadband communications is badly needed, and had the FCC and LightSquared acted responsibly, we'd be seeing it happen. But in a classic example of haste making waste, now we won't see such a deployment for a long time, if ever.

Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÔÇÖs 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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