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Move will likely force Sprint to sever ties with firm, losing valuable source of income

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) warned the White House and Congress that the LightSquared's proposed satellite 4G service could cause serious degradation of GPS signals, including those vital to U.S. defense.  Independent contractors hired by the U.S. Air Force Space Command determined that the service could interfere with a whopping 75 percent of consumer and government GPS devices.  A second round of tests from another independent contractor validated these findings.

And yet, somehow, the service was almost approved.

I. The Service, the Damage That Almost Was

Why that was case depends on who you ask.  Republicans have accused President Obama of financial tampering -- in essence taking bribes.  On the eve of the Federal Communications Commission's decision to grant the service tentative approval, emails indicate that the LightSquared's executives and legal counsel had reached out to numerous members of the Obama administration reminding them of a series of fund-raisers they were holding to raise money for the President's reelection war chest [source].

The FCC granted the go ahead.

If you asked members of the Obama administration or the FCC -- a pseudo-autonomous agency in which the majority of commissioners are appointed by the sitting President of the United States -- they would surely say it was an innocent mistake.  In retrospect, they would likely say, a deal that seems too good to be true, likely is.

Neither side may ever have the proof they need to show their accounting is the true tale.  But, ultimately, the NTIA and Air Force stepped in before LightSquared could do much of anything with its provisional authorization.  And after those agencies raised a commotion about the dire interference possibilities, in the end, the outcome ultimately became what most had expected it to be in the first place -- a rejection of the LightSquared service plan.

II. FCC Forced to Strike Perhaps the Final Blow Against LightSquared

The FCC today issued a statement, revealing that it has squashed LightSquared's plans -- likely for good.  The agency tries to keep a chipper tone, despite the swirling allegations of impropriety, writing:
To drive economic growth, job creation, and to promote competition, the FCC has been focused on freeing up spectrum for mobile broadband. This includes our efforts to remove regulatory barriers that preclude the use of spectrum for mobile services. To advance these goals, the Commission runs open processes – the success of which relies on the active, timely, and full participation of all stakeholders.  

LightSquared’s proposal to provide ground-based mobile service offered the potential to unleash new spectrum for mobile broadband and enhance competition. The Commission clearly stated from the outset that harmful interference to GPS would not be permitted. This is why the Conditional Waiver Order issued by the Commission’s International Bureau prohibited LightSquared from beginning commercial operations unless harmful interference issues were resolved.  

NTIA, the federal agency that coordinates spectrum uses for the military and other federal government entities, has now concluded that there is no practical way to mitigate potential interference at this time.  Consequently, the Commission will not lift the prohibition on LightSquared.

And just like that LightSquared is left with a 5.4 ton hanging space decoration -- one of the most expensive satellites in history.  

SkyTerra 1
LightSquared's giant SkyTerra 1 now won't be seeing much use. [Image Source: Boeing Comp.]

And just like that Sprint Nextel Corp. (S) is left scrambling to find a new 4G ally.  Sprint had a hefty $15B USD contract to deploy LightSquared's terrestrial LTE.  But Sprint made it clear that if the satellite service was rejected, the 4G service as a whole could not survive, and the deal is over.

III. Game Over

LightSquared appears dumbfounded at these developments.  In a letter responds, it defiantly writes:

In response to the NTIA's recommendation to the FCC today regarding LightSquared's network, the company said it remains committed to finding a resolution with the federal government and the GPS industry to resolve all remaining concerns. LightSquared is confident that the parties will continue the on-going efforts to explore all engineering options and alternatives to find a solution to this difficult issue.

The NTIA's recommendation relied on the flawed conclusions of the PNT ExCOM about LightSquared's potential impact on GPS. 

The telecommunications company has claimed that the government funded independent studies -- all of them -- have been badly flawed.  It has even claimed that the GPS companies had created the problem in question and that it was their responsibility to solve it.

The firm will likely continue to voice these complaints while there are ears left to listen.  But in the end, it looks like it's game over for LightSquared and its massive, yet poorly designed, orbiter.

(LightSquared is a privately held telecommunications company.)

Sources: FCC [rejection statement], LightSquared [PR Wire response], iWatchNews [Obama fundraising emails]

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RE: is there any truth to this?
By Solandri on 2/15/2012 3:56:38 PM , Rating: 5
LightSquared's spectrum is adjacent to GPS. It was originally allocated by the FCC for satellite communications. That means a very strong signal pointed straight up, with a very weak signal raining down on the countryside from above.

GPS was designed assuming this. Everyone knew the signals coming from GPS satellites would be very weak and thus vulnerable to interference from neighboring frequencies. In fact that was the reason all the frequencies neighboring GPS are allocated for satellite communications - to minimize interference. That is what is meant by GPS receivers being designed to rely on LightSquared's spectrum. GPS is so weak it needs the adjacent spectrum to be used for low-power applications like satellite phones and signals. The spectrum cost considerably less at auction because of this restriction.

LightSquared was using its spectrum for satellite phone service. That business wasn't working out that well so they bought out their partner to obtain sole ownership of the spectrum. Then they went to government and bribed^H^H^H^H^H^H requested they be allowed to use the spectrum for terrestrial cell phone service. That request was granted on the condition that they could prove it didn't interfere with services in adjacent spectrum (GPS).

So basically they bought cheap spectrum which was only intended to be used to transmit very weak signals. And now they're trying to repurpose it into towers which transmit signals thousands if not millions of times stronger than originally intended. GPS was built assuming LS' spectrum would only be used for very weak signals, and everyone was telling LS that their idea wasn't technically feasible. The FCC did the tests and found exactly what was expected - LS' new service would interfere with GPS. And now LS is trying to blame the problem on GPS.

Basically, the whole thing amounts to LS trying to get into the terrestrial cell phone business by buying cheap satellite spectrum and repurposing it, instead of expensive spectrum intended for terrestrial radio communication. Then trying to bribe enough politicians into ignoring the damage it would do to adjacent satellite communications.

RE: is there any truth to this?
By kingmotley on 2/15/2012 6:25:11 PM , Rating: 2
Sort of, except your technical description of the interference is backwards. Poorly designed GPS units are actually listening/receiving signals outside of their designated spectrum, and into the adjoining spectrums. This wasn't a problem before because the signals in those spectrums weren't powerful enough to interfere with the GPS signal in most cases. However, if those adjoining spectrums are retasked, then the L2 signals are strong enough that those poorly designed GPS units won't be able to hear it's own signal over the louder adjacent signal.

The real issue is that the GPS units should not be listening in to the other spectrums and be hoping that they can hear the GPS signal over the noise in the other spectrums, and many GPS units DO filter out the extra garbage. It's just the ones that took a cheap shortcut that are affected. Those same units will be affected in many other circumstances as well, but it'll likely work 95%+ of the time.

By ChronoReverse on 2/15/2012 7:39:17 PM , Rating: 4
The thing is, filtering isn't as clearly cut as that. These GPS units have filtering, appropriate for low power neighbors .

When you have the neighbors blasting a lot stronger by multiple orders of magnitude, then the existing filters are no longer sufficient.

It's nothing to do with cheap shortcut but an engineering design. Your car isn't built to withstand tank shells because it shouldn't have to.

RE: is there any truth to this?
By Solandri on 2/15/2012 7:52:47 PM , Rating: 3
It's not backwards. There is no such thing as a perfect bandpass filter. There is always some leakage into adjacent frequencies, and after a point it begins to cost geometrically more money to build a slightly better filter. Also, transmitter and receiver circuits are the same. Yes the GPS receivers will "hear" a little into LightSquared's frequencies. But likewise LS will transmit slightly into GPS frequencies. Both are a problem.

It's just the ones that took a cheap shortcut that are affected.

Those cheap shortcuts are what allows us to have 10 cent GPS receivers which sip batteries built into all our phones, cameras, tablets, and lots of other gadgets in the future. You're trying to imply the GPS makers did something wrong by making the receivers cheap. There's nothing wrong with cheap if it works 99.9% of the time - the receivers were optimized for the environment the FCC had established for them to operate in. If someone then changes the environment so that they now work only 25% of the time, it's not the fault of GPS receivers. It's the fault of the person who changed the environment.

I'd say the cheap receivers provide a helluva lot more valuable than letting a company use some spectrum for something it wasn't originally purposed for. If the 25% of GPS receivers in the FCC test which were able to deal with LS' signal interference had $10 GPS receivers to filter out noise, you're talking about ($10-$0.10)*hundreds of millions of devices = billions of dollars in extra cost for consumer goods just to deal with something that should never have been a problem to begin with because the FCC folks who originally allocated those frequencies did it right.

That's what this boils down to. A single company trying to impose a huge cost onto the public at-large so that it can reap a financial benefit for itself. Just sell the bandwidth to someone who wants to use it for satellite communications, and buy other spectrum which is and always has been allocated for terrestrial radio transmissions.

RE: is there any truth to this?
By Arc177 on 2/16/2012 7:46:17 PM , Rating: 2
Your post demonstrates the gross ignorance you have involving this matter as Solandri has illustrated.

You clearly have no knowledge of the physics or engineering involved and are just spouting the LS kool-aid, which is utter non-sense.

If you would like to learn the truth you should go over to gpsworld and search LightSquared- read up. There are a number of articles (read A LOT) that demonstrate in a very plain english way, why this was a colossal farce from the get-go. There is also ample demonstration of the shenanigans of the FCC nearly letting this garbage go forward under the Obama administrations crooked oversight as well as some folks that have been around prior to the Obama admin.

RE: is there any truth to this?
By foolsgambit11 on 2/15/2012 8:16:08 PM , Rating: 2
Okay, but where does LS' huge satellite come into play?

RE: is there any truth to this?
By Accord99 on 2/15/2012 9:03:29 PM , Rating: 2
Think of it as a loophole, allowing them to claim that they are setting up an integrated satellite-ground network even though the network will be overwhelmingly ground based and the vast majority of handsets won't even have satellite access.

One or two satellites are a lot cheaper than the $10 billion Verizon paid for its spectrum.

"Nowadays you can buy a CPU cheaper than the CPU fan." -- Unnamed AMD executive

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