The LightSquared vs GPS problem, what now?


I learned a lot at the 2011 NMEA Conference & Expo, and got a first peek at some wonderful new marine electronics, but I’ll start my coverage with the scene above. Here on Panbo we started discussing GPS interference caused by LightSquared’s proposed new U.S. broadband cellular network back in March, and the entry now has 111 comments, many vigorously opposed to the LS plan.  Plus the Coalition to Save Our GPS has become a powerfully united and outspoken voice, and the whole darn mess has recently become a political football.  So it seemed fairly brave of Geoffrey Stearn — who is LS’s VP of Spectrum Development — to step into a room full of marine safety authorities (U.S. GMDSS Task Force) and NMEA members all of whose work depends on reliable GPS positioning…

But engineers and other technical folk tend to be deliberative and mild mannered, and Stearns seemed to fit that mold as well. There was no yelling. But there certainly was some skepticism about LightSquared’s latest “solution” to the interference problem. As I understand it, this is the third plan LS has proposed, or the second modification since testing proved beyond doubt that Plan A would adversely affect all sorts of GPS receivers over substantial areas around LS ground transmitters. I think the diagram below, extracted from a Deere filing to the FCC, nicely illustrates the situation even though it seems to depict LS’s original proposal.
   Note the extreme signal power differences between the transmitters using the two LS bands and the adjacent GPS satellites. Note too how our “low” precision GPS receivers can filter the signal more tightly than what’s possible when receivers are designed to produce position accuracy to within inches. And finally understand that those high precision receivers also often use extra input from systems like Deere’s StarFire that are even more tangled up in the two bands of spectrum that LightSquared acquired from Inmarsat.


Below is Geoffrey Stearn’s slide depicting LightSquared’s latest proposal, which is to only use the lower of its two bands and to transmit at much lower power than originally planned (-30 dBm to be specific). That supposedly takes care of interference issues with low precision GPS receivers and a company called Javad GNSS claims to have a filtering solution for high precision receivers. And it’s worth noting that Javad Ashjaee is quite a GPS engineering talent. So is LightSquared going to happen? Well, that remains to be seen…


For one thing, the senior GPS engineer who Garmin flew to the conference specifically to rebut Stearn’s address says that Garmin is not at all convinced that the latest LS plan won’t interfere with standard narrowband GPS receivers. The arguments get into pretty technical areas like propagation auditing and standards, but I certainly got the point that we all tolerate weak cell signals much more easily than we could handle poor GPS reception. Obviously a lot more testing of LightSquared’s latest plan has to happen. And in my view it shouldn’t be rushed, even if LS is under a financial gun.
   In fact, I asked Stearns in a breakout session if LS has a Plan D in case it is not allowed to transmit any cellular data from ground stations on either of its L bands. While he danced away from that answer, he did respond to my followup saying that LS had simply not realized that there would be interference issues when it conceived Plan A.  An expert later told that that that answer was not only BS but “documented BS”. 
   Personally I remain convinced that massive disruption of GPS in the U.S. will never happen because it would outrage so many users. And Stearns did confirm that saltwater marine users are the least likely to see problems because part of LS’s deal with Inmarsat is careful transmission controls along the coastline in order not to disturb the latter’s maritime services. But I was also struck by the questioning of Jule Rutstein of Bethel Marine Electronics. If Plan C or some further compromise is indeed activated, how are guys like Jules and his team going to diagnose it? They already get calls about intermittent GPS failures that can very hard to figure out. Maybe a map of LightSquared transmission towers will become a new piece of everyone’s trouble shooting kit?


Similar Posts:

The LightSquared problem, time to join “Save Our GPS”?
March 14, 2011

Icom PCR, name a frequency!
October 11, 2007

The AIS receiver test, testing is hard!
August 29, 2006

Troubleshooting Radio Frequency Interference
May 8, 2004

Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now excited to have Ben Stein as very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Panbo is going to the next level in 2019 and beyond.

89 Responses

  1. Sandy Daugherty says:

    Who else is privy to or participating in “further US Government Testing” with results due November 30?
    I am appalled that no one at the FCC will just stand up and say “This is a bad idea and a disappointment for President Obama, but it just won’t work.”

  2. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    PS There was at least one marine GPS expert at NMEA who feels that LS interference issues can be worked out, though it may take time, and that finding a solution is worth much effort because our country really needs access to more broadband cellular spectrum.

  3. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Unrelated PPS: I’ve had two reports from folks who’ve gotten virus warnings when they came to Panbo today. The problem seems to be somewhere in the display ads and hence can seem intermittent as the ads roll over if you refresh the site. More reports are most welcome; please email ben at

  4. Jeff Kissner says:

    Was Garmin the only OEM that made an appearance at the meeting? I would have assumed presence from at least the top 5 selling brands. I also agree with Sandy on why the FCC isn’t all over this like stink on poop as well as all of the companies who manufacture GPS systems for civil, aerospace and the professional maritime industries or are they not that concerned about the problem?
    I am assuming that there is no other bandwidth range available farther away from which the GPS signal occupies or they would have gone that route to begin with.
    I also agree we need more access to mobile broadband but at what cost. I am sure Light Squared needs to get going on this project ASAP and I can sympathize with that but, I feel that since this project could have a negative effect on the safety of the people who depend on accurate GPS signals we should proceed with some caution until we get a solution, not band-aide to the problem.

  5. Keith Peshak says:

    LightSquared shuts down GPS receivers because the powerful signal (15,750 watts, or, maybe ½ that) just right near GPS receivers (up to many miles away) saturates the antenna amplifier in the GPS receiver trying to receive about 300 watts from about 11,000 miles away. No filter on LightSquared transmitters can prevent that. Need a filter on the GPS receiver after the patch before the gain stage to ground out the LightSquared off band signal. Here is ours: $1200 and the size of a brick and NOT a complete solution. Sanjiv Ahuja has said he has one for 30 cents. We are waiting to see one. Javad says they have a better GPS. We are waiting to see one. Either way, you all get to buy a new GPS.
    Another way is to alter the LightSquared protocol, to contain “holes” that GPS can listen through. who is Chief Network Officer for LightSquared says “…I do not intend to follow up with you regarding your proposal” and “Please understand we have received hundreds of offers to solve our issue and simply do not have time to engage everyone.” That option does not have you all buying a new GPS.

  6. Matt Marsh says:

    Those “modern high precision receivers” that will be most dramatically affected by any interference are mainly in the hands of very powerful groups. Major construction companies are one (modern surveying is heavily dependent on centimetre-resolution GPS). The airline industry is another. Geologists rely on GPS to monitor fault lines. Oil companies need it for setting up their wells. And, of course, the incumbent telecoms are likely not thrilled, although they’re smart enough to not be seen interfering. The list goes on.
    The marine industry is a small player compared to many others whose work would be affected. It would not surprise me if a lot more talking is going on behind the scenes than we are made aware of. I’ve already heard (unconfirmed) rumours that a military official, Gen. William Shelton, is claiming to have been pressured to change his testimony to support LS. No doubt there is plenty more lobbying going on, and I suspect the powerful players are mainly opposed to this.

  7. Richard C says:

    From a more down to earth perspective, will LS interfere with car GPS receivers? If that’s a possibility I can see the auto/truck GPS market becoming so unreliable that end users stop buying all those Garmin, TomTom, Magellan and built in new car GPS systems. Hope all those trucking companies that track their fleets understand the expensive tracking software is going to be worthless at the flip of a switch or at least not reliable enough to look at.

  8. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Richard, I believe it’s been established that LightSquared’s original plan could have messed up or knocked out every type of GPS — automotive; marine; cell phone; trackers; high precision surveying, aviation, and agriculture; even some GPS receivers in space! The level of disruption would have depended on the proximity of the receiver to one of the 4,500 transmitters LS plans to install around the country (in partnership with Sprint, as recently announced), and also the type of GPS receiver, with high precision models taking the most damage.
    As best I can tell, nothing has been definitely established regarding LightSquared’s Plan C (lower band only and lower power). LS says there will be no interference with narrowband GPS receivers — which are everything but the high precision models — but Garmin is quite dubious. While LS acknowledges that Plan C is an issue for the specialized high precision receivers, it says there’s a fix, but experts like Keith (above) are dubious.
    As Matt notes, there are very important and powerful stake holders who are concerned about LightSquared, including the USAF Space Command, and they’re organized. Which is why I don’t think we’ll ever see major disruptions.
    What I’m concerned about is an LS system that allows all GPS receivers to work almost all the time, but not as well, or consistently, as they work now. That seems possible, and dangerous.

  9. Russell Levin says:

    I attended the GMDSS Task Force meeting and wish to thank the Task Force for the work they do in bringing together government, private industry, and international standards for maritime communications. This is the one forum where you can ask the people in charge a question and get an answer. The USCG, NMEA and the RTCM support the GMDSS Task Force and will continue to do do. If you want to find out how to participate contact the GMDSS Task Force at

  10. Bob Mueller says:

    There is cell service all over the world. If a foreign country decided to contact Lightsquared, let’s say Pakistan, and asked them to deploy their broadband wireless Internet throughout Pakistan, does that render all of our GPS guided munitions useless in that country?
    I hope all the public conversation on this issue does not help to educate our enemies how to disable our GPS. It’s a saddening that LS was able to get this far.

  11. Ron Rogers says:

    If you have ever taken your boat past a sensitive US Naval installation or ship, you would realize that GPS disruption techniques are well known and in use. An enemy wants your GPS not to work, but to keep theirs functioning. LS’ old proposals would have negatively affected all GPS signals including encrypted military signals.
    The controversy surrounding GEN Shelton’s testimony is not a rumor, rather it is a fact. Last week, the Air Force Chief of Staff, GEN Schwartz, publicly commended GEN Shelton for standing up to the pressure. That was very unusual.
    If LS knew about the interference issues before they got Mr. Falcone’s money, then they are in trouble for withholding material facts from a financial prospectus.

  12. Rick R says:

    Does anyone know if the LS transmitters will interfere with Galileo GNSS receivers? If the LS proposals are approved, we may all have to switch to European equipment. Galileo is scheduled to be operational in two years.

  13. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Ron is correct that General Shelton publically rejected “guidance” from the White House regarding his testimony before Congress. So did another official, which is documented in the “political football” link at the beginning of my entry ( ).
    But we’re not in Russia. While apparently such “guidance” is commonplace from the executive branch, in both these cases the officials ultimately spoke their own minds, and were even public about their differences with the administration. And they didn’t get shipped off to Siberia.
    I’m surprised that several commenters here seem to believe that LightSquared could get away with massive disruption of U.S. GPS. Can you not imagine the outrage expressed by millions of Americans who have not heard a word about this and suddenly have their location-aware phone apps and navigation devices go blooy over large areas? I think the transmitters would be shut down in days or hours.
    I also think we’re witnessing a messy but so far rational regulation and allotment of resources process. In fact, I’d be annoyed at the FCC if they took some commenters advice here and simply kicked LS off both bands it leased without fully testing the possibilities for expanded broadband. Then again, if that turns out to be the right way to go, I’ll have no sympathy for LS whatsoever.

  14. BrianM says:

    >In fact, I’d be annoyed at the FCC if they took some >commenters advice here and simply kicked LS off both >bands it leased without fully testing the
    >possibilities for expanded broadband.
    If we were talking about the “original” (the one from years ago) plan to offer broadband from satellites, with very few low power ground transmitters, I might agree with you, Ben.
    But the idea of putting piles of ground based high power transmitters in a satellite subband? No, just no. Let them buy the appropriate ground based part of L band, not steal from the satellite part.

  15. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Brian, it seems to me that there are two parts to this issue. If the spectrum has to stay all or mostly satellite communications for technical reasons, I’m fine with that. But if the technical issues can be truly resolved, then we as a nation have the right, perhaps even the obligation, to use the spectrum as wisely as possible, and that may be differently than once conceived.

  16. Matt Marsh says:

    Regarding Galileo:
    Galileo uses several frequency bands. Its main L1 band at 1575.42 MHz is shared with existing GPS. But Galileo also uses two other bands, the 1164-1215 MHz block for triangulation and the 1260-1300 MHz block for other services, which are not affected by the LS plan. In any case, Galileo works on relatively narrow bands and uses a relatively interference-resistant binary offset carrier modulation; it can be jammed (and, notably, can be jammed in a way that doesn’t screw up US Military GPS too badly), but is probably more resistant to interference than GPS.
    Regarding spectrum:
    I’m tired of hearing about a “spectrum shortage” in the US. You folks aren’t short on mobile broadband spectrum because there’s not enough of it; you’re short on spectrum because, over the last two decades, it’s been broken up and sold piecemeal to companies that don’t co-operate with each other to use it effectively. Hence, a fragmented situation where your carrier has huge swaths of surplus spectrum in one area, and not nearly enough to keep up in the next town over, but you can’t use their competitors’ towers because inter-company billing is too unpalatable to arrange on a wide scale. Had your telecom companies agreed on one class of technologies at each generation, and been allotted (not sold) a handful of blocks of shared spectrum, and built shared towers, the LS debate would be largely moot.

  17. Rick R says:

    Now LS are threatening to sue the FCC if their application is not granted.
    Sounds like LS is admitting that their scheme is unlikely to be approved.

  18. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Interesting, Rick. At NMEA, LightSquared’s Geoffrey Stearns said that they had essentially given over control of their “upper band” to the FCC, which sounded cooperative except that it made me wonder what sort of control LS thinks it has of the lower band. I think the FCC controls use of all this spectrum in the U.S., even if they have to backtrack on moves they made too precipitously.
    And thanks, Matt, for an overview of how we’ve handled cell spectrum over here. It’s been annoying all along, but I had realized the inefficiency of our multiple standards. Maybe that can fixed?

  19. Dan Corcoran (b393capt) says:

    Matt, how much spectrum do you have over there available for 3G or 4G services?
    I know the 10Mhz band behind the 3G service I am using is saturated. I barely get 100KB of data transfer when I use to enjoy 2MB.
    That seems to justify the goal over here that the FCC find 500Mhz of spectrum between the 100 Mhz and 10Ghz band. See this article:
    As for sharing spectrum, the benefit for the government to be involved may be largely moot as the handsets themselves will have that capability with Advanced LTE (and competing protocols) to do the sharing. These protocols support transievers for smartphones that can not only figure out in your current location which carrier has free bandwidth, but aggrigate bandwidth between many carriers simultaneously to pump data faster than choosing any individual carrier.

  20. Insider says:

    Has anyone noticed that Cell Phone Manufacturers are not up in arms about the issues posed by LS?
    The reason is Cell Phone GPS Receivers already have very good filters for and are basically not affected by the LS system.
    If cell phone GPS receivers can filter the LS signal, why can’t other GPS Receivers? Why is the Swiss Company, Garmin, so concerned about their PND market when it is clear that the technical issues can be overcome by replacing an existing PND with a new one. Other GPS manufacturers in the Marine Market appear to feel the same way.
    The bottom line is that LS purchased the spectrum and have a right to use it. They also will provide competition to the other 4G systems from ATT and Verizon which will keep prices lower for all of us when we do use 4G on our boats.
    IMHO, the entire issue is being way overblown.

  21. Ron Rogers says:

    Two things:
    The manufacturers may look forward to the sales of new receivers, but, U.S. consumers are neither philosophically nor financially disposed to do so.
    First, US receivers were built to meet FCC standards and were type-approved.
    If type-accepted equipment is affected by some subsequent device introduction – it is the new device manufacturers burden to mitigate the interference. It is neither a consumer burden nor a GPS manufacturer’s burden. I do not believe that LS can afford to buy “filters” for all existing receivers. LS’ is mumbling about a lawsuit based upon the erroneous premise that the FCC approved receivers that didn’t adhere to “standards.” They have been referring to a DOD *recommended* spec that GPS manufacturers “chose to ignore.” Last I heard, you can ignore recommendations but not standards.
    Second, LS purchased the spectrum based upon using satellite transmitters, not ground-based, higher powered transmitters. Also, LS paid a price commensurate with satellite-based use. So, philosophically, consumers do not appreciate a “bait-and-switch” by LS on intended use.
    Lastly, I do not accept the idea that LS did not know the impact of their real plans. This approach makes no technical sense, only financial sense – if they get away with their ploy. Sprint already has an agreement with LS. Sprint sells many cell phones. Sprint’s interests diverge from both GPS manufacturers and users.
    I too look forward to greater bandwidth and rural Internet access. Those are public interests. Perhaps we do need a spectrum plan to revise the way that the FCC has allocated the frequency spectrum. The European approach sounds appealing to this technical neophyte.

  22. Matt Marsh says:

    Our situation here in Canada isn’t much better than in the US, but for different reasons. We only have three large carriers, two of whom collaborate on network expansion, and there’s plenty of spectrum between them. (Plus a few little guys, whose hardware is generally compatible with existing gear.) Our problem here is that our carriers prefer to take their profits and call it a day, rather than re-invest in the infrastructure; they have enough spectrum to upgrade if they want to.
    When you’re looking at whether you need more spectrum, total MHz isn’t what matters; MHz*km^2 is. Build twice as many small towers at low power, each covering half the area of a single big tower, and you’ve doubled the amount of data you can move in that area, without using any more spectrum. Covering hundreds of acres with one high-wattage tower doesn’t work anymore, not in modern suburbs and certainly not in urban areas. But that’s what some carriers in both our countries prefer to do.
    You are correct that low-precision GPS units such as handhelds and cellphones would, theoretically, be unaffected (unless they’re very close to an LS transmitter). It is the high-precision ones used for surveying, aircraft navigation, etc. that are much more sensitive to out-of-band interference.
    LS’s tests show no significant problems. Garmin’s tests show that transmissions in these bands wreak havoc with some GPS equipment. True, the GPS spec does call for out-of-band rejection criteria that some receivers do not meet. Some blame can certainly be placed on the GPS makers for that. But there’s also a strong case that LS should never have been sold a block so close to a critical infrastructure service. Their “right to use it” must necessarily be conditional on not disrupting existing essential services, even if they have (on paper) a legitimate claim to some overlapping spectrum.

  23. Dan Corcoran (b393capt) says:

    Ron: You meant to reply to insider, not me, right ?
    Insider: You wrote “Has anyone noticed that Cell Phone Manufacturers are not up in arms about the issues posed by LS? The reason is Cell Phone GPS Receivers already have very good filters for and are basically not affected by the LS system.”
    That’s pretty twisted logic, and not evidence that cell phone gps receivers are better than Garmin’s.
    More likely the smart phone manufacturers, which need spectrum for their products to not slow down on every sale of another million iThings and Androids, are supportive of efforts by all parties to find ways to more efficiently use the spectrum.
    After all, I think most smartphone users don’t use their GPS functionality (drains battery).

  24. Ron Rogers says:

    Dan: Yes, sorry.
    The ONLY tests that count are the ones done at White Sands, NM. Neither those done by Garmin nor those done by LS can be viewed as dispositive. At the first White Sands test, LS only furnished one transmitter. GEN Shelton implied that he desired more than one for a valid test.
    Let us try to remember that the new FAA air traffic control system (which has software issues) depends upon aircraft equipped with precision receivers. Also, GPS-based weapons systems training in CONUS can be affected – very embarrassing.
    This is not a trivial technical matter.

  25. Dan Corcoran (b393capt) says:

    Interesting goverment web-site link provided by, shows all the impact statements submitted by government agencies.
    Take a look at the FAA powerpoint presentation first. $120+ billion dollar impacts / sets back use of GPS in aviation 10 years, etc. 30 million tons of CO pollution won’t be avoided. This dosn’t count the loss of equipment (aircraft) in collisions that are already being reduced using GPS.
    Some of these documents claim that the upper 10Mhz would still be used by LS on or after 2014. “LS has stated a need to be on a trajectory to use the upper 10Mhz by 2013-2014”. Is that still true, or did LS agree to extend this date or not use upper 10Mhz ?

  26. Charles says:

    Regardless of Lightsquare’s stated intention to operate on it’s upper channel, that cannot happen until someone designs an affordable filter that rejects that interfering signal.
    You can decide if this is a practical filter for the proposed upper LTE channel.
    If someone does design and demonstrate a suitable filter, a 2014 completion date for retrofit into existing certified GPS avionics is a daunting task.
    Realistically, the logistical timelines for the ‘soon to be demonstrated’ lower channel solution aren’t easier.
    Lightsquared doesn’t understand the administrative and technical ramifications of implementing design changes into equipments having evolved for safety of life operations through years of testing.
    — CaptChas

  27. Mike says:

    I would very much like to believe that massive disruption would be a good enough reason to not destroy GPS in CONUS.
    I note, however, that the banking fiasco vaporized *Trillions* of retirement funds and real estate asset value, yet I don’t see any material retribution or even significant impact on anyone other than the people they already screwed. In fact, most of the companies directly responsible have been hugely profitable as a result.
    I therefore have *zero* faith that reliance upon fact or reason is operating in this picture. I also have *absolute* faith that the most base, craven forces are at work here. There is *very* little that people will *not* do to make a multi-billion dollar return. The prospect of being hated for all time, even downing airliners, as the result of their avarice doesn’t begin to move the needle.
    Sorry to be so cynical, but that’s the sorry state where we find ourselves these days.

  28. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Point taken, Mike, but let me turn it around. I suspect that if the banking fiasco had felt as definitive and real time as what LightSquared Plan A promised — go near an LS transmitter and your GPS goes bonkers, shut down the transmitter and no problems — the consequences for the banks would have been quite different.

  29. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    C-SPAN has now done two hours of interviews about the LS vs GPS issue, videos here:

  30. John K says:

    I wish I could be as optimistic as you are, but the fact that this whole fiasco is not even close to being dead yet leads me to unfortunately agree with Mike here.
    Even though Keith is not talking about the LightSquared “deal” specifically, he sums it up almost perfectly:
    (Don’t worry wether your tender ears can handle it, he apportions all the blame necessary to Everybody involved.)

  31. Graham Collins says:

    The saga continues…
    1) some leaked preliminary test results:
    2) Lightsquared’s response, claiming conspiracy and false interpretation:

  32. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    And the plot thickens. Thanks to Ron Rodgers I learned this morning that Harbinger Capital may be in legal trouble:

  33. Mike says:

    A statement by the CEO of Lightsquared said they are not giving up their fight and are funded until the end of Q1 2012. They further claim to be unable to raise additional capital because of the uncertainty surrounding the interference issue. So the clock is certainly ticking.
    “Youse gotta nice plate glass window der.
    Itta’d be unfortunate was somethin’ to happen to it.”
    I suspect LS would have trouble getting “debtor in possession” financing, so it would mean a chapter 7 liquidation instead of chapter 11 reorganization. (Note this is precisely how LS acquired their spectrum in the first place.)
    So while someone would likely bid on their spectrum,
    pressure would likely be significant for the FCC
    to take it back and protect it as originally intended.
    And it gives the FCC a way out of the mess.

  34. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Ron Rogers just linked me to a biased and poorly researched feature in Forbes. I’m kind of hoping the title — “Lightscrewed: How Washington Whipped Phil Falcone” — is true, but the author of the article has clearly gotten confused about what’s politics and what’s a real regulatory problem:

  35. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Sigh. Now LightSquared is claiming the right to blast broadband on their spectrum no matter what it does to GPS:
    Seems like an act of desperation:

  36. Dan Corcoran (b393capt) says:

    Could they be looking for an unfavorable ruling that they could leverage into a multi billion dollar refund on the licenses bought and paid for by the companies they acquired, with seven years interest ?

  37. Matt Marsh says:

    Dan, I suspect you’re right, they’ll eventually try to recoup the spectrum licence fees.
    But they’ll have a very hard time with that, too. They bought licences for low-power satellite uplink/downlink spectrum- from other commercial entities, as I understand it, not from the FCC- and paid satellite prices for it. Then they tried to repurpose it for high-power terrestrial, in direct violation of the terms of the licences they bought. (Note that legitimate terrestrial spectrum would have cost them several times more.) Now that they’ve been called out on it, they’re throwing paper everywhere and hoping that something, somewhere, will stick.
    It’s the last desperate gasps of a dying company hoping to recoup the losses it made on its own bad decisions. That’s all.

  38. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Maybe one sign of the situation is that Mr. Falcone himself seems to have joined the comment thread on the Forbes article:

  39. John K says:

    According to comments posted here -
    Lightsquared didn’t pay for anything:
    How did we get here?
    In the early 2000s, after it was clear that Iridium and Globalstar were both going nowhere (Iridium envetually filed for Chapter 11, and only became profitable after 9 years of not launching new satellites), the FCC asked “okay – who wants to use the Mobile Satellite Service band right next to GPS and Galileo?” No one raised their hands. Because the Mobile Satellite Service band was meant for low-powered Space to ground services like Inmarsat (who was already there) and Iridium and Globalstar, it means that somone would need to build yet another satellite service there.
    Then the FCC asked “okay – who wants it for free?” SkyTerra said “Sure. We’ll take it.” They got it for free.
    So the first fact that Voltrose and LightSquared lie about is that they have paid for this bandwidth – they didn’t They got it for free.
    The second thing they lie about is that the FCC said “Go ahead, LightSquared and build a high-powered ground-based wireless network with this.”
    When Skyterra and other companies along the way came up with business models – and then didn’t execute on them – eventually, in 2010, LightSquared, owned by Harbinger Capital, a hedge fund run by Philip Falcone, a major contributor to Senator Obama’s campaign, concocted a plan with very little technical planning.
    In 2003, they asked the FCC if they could put up Ancillary Terrestrial Components (ATCs) to the satellite system that SkyTerra was running in order to spread out the satellite service (a reasonable request). Because they were ANCILLARY – it meant that they would only put up a few of them, and the FCC concurred by noting in their 2003 ruling that they woould, in no way, allow them to build a ground-based telecom network because it would interfere with GPS (and Galileo).
    And that is how things remained until Early 2010, when LightSquared bought out their predecessor/owner of this Mobile Satellite Service Band. That this would be a primary satellite service band, with ANCILLARY terrestrial components to allow them to spread out the stallite spot beams.
    It wouldn’t be until Thanksgiving week 2010, that they asked for a waiver to turn the ANCILLARY TERRESTRIAL COMPONENTs into the primary system – a 4G LTE system – while still calling them “ANCILLARY” even though it was not obvious that this was the primary thing that they wanted to do.
    What this fundamentally did was change the 40 year MOBILE SATELLITE SERVICE band into a terrestrial 4G, high-powered band.
    If you read nothing else – read this *
    When GPS (and GLONASS and Galileo) were being invented, they specifically chose the Global Navigation Satellite Service (GNSS) band next to the MOBILE SATELLITE SERVICE band because the lower powered signals of the MSS band would be compatible with the GNSS band, even though they would be 10 to 20 dB hotter than GNSS signals. The reason for this is basic – Navigation signals from space are not communications signals. Using BPSK signals for GNSS means that you’re not only listening to the 1’s and 0’s of the signal, but you are listening to the very carrier phase frequency – the up and down of the signal encoding – to pick out the timing of the 1’s and 0’s. To do this, you must listen to as much of the signal and its sidelobes as possible. The more of the sidelobes you get, the more accurate you get. *If you filter out the signals immediately to the left and right of the main signal, then you have no hope of getting accuracy better than 10 or 20 meters._ That’s why they put the signals next to the Mobile Satellite Service band where Inmarsat and others are… because you can still pick up the sidelobes, get the accuracy and the multipath rejection to further increase accuracy… and those other services can also work together in peace. Like we did for 30 years.
    LightSquared lied – or was completely incompetent – when they told the FCC in their Thanksgiving Week 2010 Waiver Request that there would be little to no interference with GPS (LightSquared has subsequently said that they don’t give a shit if they interfere with Galileo in a letter to the FCC – which they will worse than GPS). The GPS experts in the field looked at the levels of power that LightSqquared was given permission to broadcast at are on the order of BILLIONS of times more powerful, rather than hundreds of times more powerful that Inmarsat is.
    LightSquared asked for and got a rezoning of the Mobile Satellite Service band next to GPS and Galileo, overturning 40 years of history, because they got smooth sailing from a presidential appointee in the FCC chairman after providing hundreds of thousands of dollars in support to the same president.

  40. Bill says:

    Did anyone remind Doug Smith he said the same line of BS with Nextel not interfering with 800MHz public safety in the 866-869MHz band when he was with Nextel? Nextel now Sprint/Nextel has not completed re-banding and it started in 2005. 6 years of waivers later the band is still a mess. Many familiar names are now at LightSquared and promising the same does anyone see a common theme? I agree the US has plenty of frequency bands just a bunch of carriers who can not chose a technolgy moving forward. In one of the recent Sprint/Nextel investor calls the LightSquared partnership was a big part of “Network Vision” shown as the backhaul on the PPT when they were called by a savy financial investment house on not using the G PCS band which they have not deployeed yet on any scale and asked about ClearWire spectrum they mocked the questions. The PCS G band was given to Nextel/Sprint for re-banding the 800MHz band and lossing 11MHz (DL) and -45MHz offset of the (UL) band. Sprint owns Nextel and 50+% of ClearWire and ClearWire will suffocate unless they become a point to multpoint backhaul network, instead they unwisely chose WiMAX and tried to be the 1st US carrier to say they built a Nation wide 4G mobile network. A mobile network at 2.5 to 2.7GHz without the proper number of towers or backhaul doesn’t seem too wise to me. LightSquared isn’t needed in it’s present form in my opinion and it has many of the same engineers and a financial agreement with Sprint/Nextel. The proper use of allocated spectrum and a common signaling standard (LTE) is what is needed in the US.
    LTE should be the defacto cellular data standard moving forward. Voice protocals like SIP/VOIP could be used on LTE to replace IX-RTT or GSM eventually.
    The current Cellular and GPS bands propogate very well in the spring, summer and fall especially early mornings and evenings with tropo ducting along the US coastal areas. In fact it is so bad at times the carriers interfere with thier own frequency reuse plans during these frequent events.
    I have no faith in any of LightSquared’s plans for terrestrial use of satellite bands or the ability to dismiss GPS interference and resolve it in a timely manor.

  41. Bill says:

    My mistake Sprint/Nextel actually only lost 7MHz of spectrum on the DL and 7MHz on UL because they pick up the 866-869MHz band. In return they picked up clear use of PCS G band.

  42. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    John, the last part of your screed doesn’t make sense to me. You seem to have forgotten that President Obama made expanded broadband data an important goal of his administration. If, as you claim, LS lied to the FCC about the GPS interference issue, wasn’t it reasonable for the FCC to give its national broadband system quick attention?

  43. John K says:

    It wasn’t my screed, I thought I indicated it was a post copied and pasted from the included linked story and comments. I should have put it in quotes. The whole comment section of that article is a good read.
    Nonetheless, yes it was reasonable for non tech savvy politicians to fall for their misrepresentations.
    But what is not reasonable is the fact that this is still not dead months after the facts have become overwhelmingly clear that this will not work.
    What would you call it?

  44. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    A messy regulatory process in action, John, as I’ve been calling it all along. Mind you that no LS transmitters have been installed and no GPS units have been interfered with.
    Allocating spectrum is really important and complicated. I don’t know why the FCC has done what it’s done to date, but I’m sure not going to take the word of an anonymous commenter at the Verge that it’s all about a bought and paid-for President. It is established that Falcone contributed to Obama’s campaign but this is the first I’ve heard of “hundreds of thousands of dollars” and I’m dubious.

  45. Jim Hebert Jim Hebert says:

    The radio spectrum is a public resource, and since the 1930’s –80 years–we have relied on the FCC to act in the public interest in administration of this public resource. The FCC relied on good engineering practices to guide their regulation.
    The Lightsquared imbroglio appears to me to be an example of political influence trying to overcome sound engineering and spectrum management, and with a goal of making a few well-connected people rich at the expense of the masses.
    I toss out any engineering support for Lightsquared from JAVAD GPS. His GPS receivers cost $15,000, and I am sure he would like to sell more of them if they were the only ones that could tolerate the interference from Lightsquared.
    Thank goodness for the Internet; it has worked to educate the public about this political deal that still has the potential to destroy the GPS system. Without the light of public discourse on this topic, back room politics would have already let politically connected speculators turn an enormous profit using our pubic spectrum.

  46. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Jim, you really ought to read the Forbes article I linked to. Its author also thinks that this situation is a simple case of “back room politics” and special interests, except that that in his view the victims are completely reversed. He thinks that LS and the general public who want more and less expensive broadband are the ones being screwed by powerful interests like the big telecom companies and their paid-for politicians.
    I don’t think he’s right, but my point is that the “public interest” is not easily defined. You can find plenty of regular citizens commenting on Forbes and on the Verge in support of LS. The only common theme is that our government is corrupt! In other words, whatever the FCC and our elected representatives do, they will be accused of being unethical.

  47. Jim Hebert Jim Hebert says:

    Ben–I had, of course, already read the article in Forbes. I am taken aback that you thought I had not!
    The FCC has been carving up the spectrum and allocating its use since the dawn of radio technology, but throughout that management they have always recognized that new users must not interfere with existing users. That has always been the paradigm.
    It seems clear the Obama administration has an agenda: to provide more broadband data service, and, perhaps, to let a friend make billions of dollars of profit in providing that service, but that goal should not be provided by harming the GPS service and its millions of users.
    The process of frequency allocation by the FCC has been made less corrupt and more transparent now that spectrum has to be purchased in a bidding process. Previously spectrum could be obtained in allocations that might have been more political. What’s happened here with Lightsquared is that the spectrum they’ve been allocated would be much more valuable if it could be converted to a different use than its original one. This conversion will enhance the value by a few billion dollars, and that is where the politics have returned to the process.
    I see more public interest in keeping my many GPS receivers working without interference than I do in allowing a few financial speculators to make a quick profit.

  48. Bill says:

    I have an open question about the LightSquared business model, they originally and possibly still claim they do not intend to sell broadband to the general public. Have they shown or provided any documentation showing the collective good would be better served if they could get a change in use that their service would cost less or deliver higher bandwidth then any of the current US cellular providers?

  49. Mike O. says:

    The temporary authorization that was issued to LS was specifically to allow construction of transmitter sites. The assumption, i presume, was that the interference problem was a red herring (not the IPO kind!) and would blow over. Hence LS would not lose time getting the network built. The likely LS bankruptcy proceedings will illuminate exactly what they have built in the interim.
    I realized this morning that LS being denied the license (or its bankruptcy) could actually *save* money for the LS investors.
    All the cell sites rely critically upon GPS for the timing and synchronization which is essential for the networks to operate. If LS manages to deafen the GPS timing receivers with their authorized 15KW ERP, *they will screw themselves along with everyone else*. (For now, we’ll ignore the lawsuits from the other cellular carriers which would result when their networks go down as well, although they will enrich many lawyers.)
    The magnitude of this irony is exceeded only by the incompetent hubris of the perpetrators.
    So the LS investors can either take their losses now and lick their wounds, or LS can raise and spend another $10-15 billion and *then* screw themselves.
    While this latter alternative would be a well-earned reward for LS and Harbinger, unfortunately that additional capital would come from innocent bystanders seduced by lies and prevarications. Hence my claim that being denied the license would ultimately result in fewer people losing *much* less money.
    Note that one of the most effective ways to penetrate “the corporate shield” is to demonstrate the officers and directors either misrepresented material facts or failed to be “duly diligent” with investors’ money. This is especially true of stockholder lawsuits (public or private companies).
    In this event, the officers and directors of every entity plausibly involved will be sued collectively and personally into penury. Alas, the “communications lawyers” on K-street in DC they hired specialize in legal and regulatory loop-holery and do not posses equivalent skill in RF design.
    So sorry.

  50. Bill says:

    Being an industry insider I can tell you they underestimated the GPS alliance and public’s power. They also from a basic engineering standpoint under estimated the near/far front end overload issue. I repeat these are the same so called engineers that created the Nextel/Public Safety issue.
    DeJa Vue or incompetance you be the judge?

  51. Bill says:

    Mike O you nailed it in 2010 “a temporary use” waiver was granted. I emphasis the date and use of this band. Who in this economy and political climate would bet the farm on temporary use of a satellite band for a mostly terrestrial network? The FCC temporary use waiver was not based on basic RF engineering 101. I don’t feel sorry for Falcone or his uninformed investors. He tried the Craig McCaw play only using spectrum that can’t co-exist with the bands intended use. McCaw was smarter then Falcone when you surround yourself with Yes men what other outcome would Falcone expect?

  52. George says:

    Falcone actually contributed a lot to the Republicans, and was a primary financial backer ($10,000) to the Republican elections challenge against Minnesota Democrat Al Franken. He backed Guiliani in the primaries.
    I’m sure that the ‘politicals’ among us won’t let the facts get in the way of a good Obama-bashing. The big guys spend their money both ways. Falcone backed Chris Dodd for the Democratic primary and Rudy Giulaini for the Republicans.
    I actually do not see that he sent any money to the Obama campaign or the Democrats, but I’m just doing a cursory search. He might have a PAC that donates money, but it certainly isn’t the case that a committed Democratic backer would try to help the Republicans win the Minnesota recount.

  53. Bill says:

    I have no direct or indirect involvement with this suite of products eHRPD but it might help the CDMA US carriers transition to LTE:

  54. Jim Hebert Jim Hebert says:

    Philip Falcone was the subject of a VANITY FAIR article on prominent members of society:
    It refers to LIghtsquared as the “riskiest trade ever” or “the bet of his life.”

  55. Dennis O'Connor says:

    It reeks of the Obama Administration rewarding friends and allies (Solyndra and many others as well as LS)and to heck with the public’s rights. Obama said elections have consequences. It may be the one statement of his Presidency that will become standard in the history books and be taught in poly-sci classes.
    Virtually every airport in this country is now dependent upon GPS approaches for navigation in bad weather. From a plane at thirty thousand feet the horizon becomes a long ways away and radiated interference from a LS transmitter is line of sight at that height…
    I have said many times the day will come when we wish we had LORAN…

  56. Bill says:

    Well we all remember one of the 1st moves this adminitration did was to destroy the E-LORAN systems. Now we have LightSquared, just more incompetence by our federal government. I still remember the video of the Alaska tower being blown up. It’s one thing to decommision E-LORAN it is another to destroy the structures. What is next? Well Russia has GLONASS.

  57. Dan Corcoran (b393capt) says:

    Bill, maybe what is next, is manipulating earth magnetic north to broadcast wireless data over long distances cheaply. The company using this technology will claim (i) the resulting noise or offset we observe on our magnetic compass is not caused by the new technology, but rather a failure of our compass to filter, (ii) to which engineers would respond that filtering is impossible/impractical, yet (iii) the technology company would respond filtering is possible (iv) as evidence cell phones have the ability to behave as rudimentary compass devices therefore demonstrating such filtering is obviously doable despite the engineers claims otherwise.
    I think maybe I just blew a good idea for an April 1st entry.

  58. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Thanks to Ron Rogers I just read about what the Congress, Senate, and President put into the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012. If LightSquared wasn’t already on the ropes, it sure is now.
    “The bottom line is that LightSquared has basically one choice if it wants to operate its network. It must show to the satisfaction of the Working Group, the FCC and Congress that it does not interfere with GPS at all. If it can’t do that, then the FCC can’t grant approval and LightSquared can’t operate.”
    Doesn’t this also undermine the claim that this issue is all politics?
    And it looks like Sprint is bailing out of its LS partnership:

  59. Dan Corcoran (b393capt) says:

    Here is an outstanding article in gpsworld. It is by far the most accurate that I have read in the last three months, in no small part because the author clearly distinguishes when and if he is writing about the upper or lower 10Mhz, or sub-portion there of.

  60. Sandy Daugherty says:

    Is it over? Has Congress started nailing the coffin closed? at reports:
    “Buried deep within the 500-page-plus National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 is a series of requirements that specify exactly what LightSquared must do before the Federal Communications Commission can authorize operation of its satellite and terrestrial based Long-Term Evolution (LTE) wholesale data service.”
    The article is well researched, but the remarks are inane.

  61. Sandy Daugherty says:

    Or is LS just positioning for (or threatening) a lawsuit against the FCC?

  62. Sandy Daugherty says:

    This is the way LightSquared will end,
    This is the way LightSquared will end,
    This is the way LightSquared will end,
    Not with a bang but a whimpering lawsuit.

  63. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Case closed? Last week the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing Executive Committee — which represents nine federal agencies — “concluded unanimously that none of LightSquared’s proposals would overcome significant interference with GPS (Global Positioning System).”
    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. As a result, no additional testing is warranted at this time.

  64. Mike O. says:

    Lessee now – Lightsquared demands “FCC retake the lead on testing” when the Defense Authorization Act explicitly prohibits the FCC from lifting a finger to help *and* requires the FCC and DoD certify there is no possibility of interference. Lightsquared’s suggestion seems to be – how you say? – a non-starter.
    Reviewing the scoring so far we have:
    Multi-100-billion-dollar established market with a clear and compelling contribution to continued innovation, critical to National Defense, Public Safety, and Air Transport, all while contributing to the Greater Global Good: 1 point
    Scum-sucking, duplicitous financial parasites who any other time would be chanting “Deregulation!” except now when it’s opportunistic to subvert Government Power for their purposes, hell-bent on stealing yet more public assets and converting them to private profit with absolutely zero regard for the damage it will do, fully aided and abetted by corrupt political lackies leading an embarrassingly compromised US federal agency: 0 points
    (previous point awarded to the scum-suckers was rescinded upon viewing the video replay)
    Gee! You think maybe the Good Guys will win one for a change?

  65. Sandy Daugherty says:

    Has anyone here been invited to the LS conference call on future strategies starting soon?

  66. Sandy Daugherty says:

    We should start seeing the palace rats deserting the sinking ship at any moment; the only delay for the beltline bandits hired to promote this dismal display of power politics will be their getting paid….

  67. Dan Corcoran (b393capt) says:

    As reported in gpsworld …
    The co-chairs of the organization LightSquared is now required by law to satisfy, has decided that further testing is futile and the answer is NO. To underscore NO, the co-chairs announced plans to draft new interference standards to inform anyone else with ground based thoughts of using space based spectrum near gps, they cannot event think about interfering with gps users.
    Or read for yourself

  68. Mike says:

    Excellent! Two weasels fighting over poison roadkill!

  69. Doug Campbell says:

    Well, that seems pretty definitive!

  70. Sandy Daugherty says:

    There will still be some fireworks. The FCC will wiggle around to avoid a lengthy court battle, along the lines “I lost a POT full of money and its all your fault because you didn’t help me keep it.” and then the carrion crows will try to resurrect the issue for a little profit in dead body parts.
    In the end, nobody wins but the lawyers.

  71. Sandy Daugherty says:

    Dear Mr. Todd Ruelle,
    You msy be aware of my shrill and cutting opposition here and in many other forums to LightSquared’s plans to provide broadband internet connection to thousands of deserving school children in America’s hinterland. I’m beginning to wonder if I shouldn’t mend my ways and carry a kinder, gentler message to my friends online. If you would like to advise me how best to achieve my own “win/win” on this issue, please contact me directly.
    {Editor: Sandy may be talking about this: }

  72. Sandy Daugherty says:

    I was WRONG! the FCC HAS found a way to prolong the agony! Overcoming their paralyzing fear of actually doing something they have requested further public comment on the Lightsquared Question. And to save themselves the trouble of actually reading what we think, they forgot to tell us where to send it.

  73. Graham Collins says:

    Flip ’em over, they look done!
    The FCC has revoked Lightsquared’s conditional waiver, essentially killing their business plan. Que the lawyers!!!

  74. Rick R says:

    I’m glad to see the FCC finally show some common sense. The only question is why did it take this long. Lightsquared’s application should not have gotten past the receptionists desk.
    But a national broadband service is a good idea, and something that a lot of boaters could make use of — provided it is on a frequency that doesn’t interfere with anything else.

  75. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    If you want to bang more nails in Lightsquared’s coffin, the FCC is seeking comments on their tentative decision to rescind LS’s permit:
    Meanwhile, doesn’t look like LS is expecting much support:

  76. steverow says:

    Oh I love it when a plan comes together.
    Well done to everybody involved. From this side of the pond we have been watching paralysed with dread unable to do anything. So good on all of you.

  77. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Sandy is still worried about the final FCC decision on LightSquared ( ) but Sprint has canceled its deal and two of the companies planning to use LS’s service have now signed up for Clearwire’s LTE network, which doesn’t mess with GPS:
    Here’s something funny about this whole debacle. Fox News (in the form of Grover Norquist himself) is now trying to claim that the demise of Lightsquared is a Team Obama plot — — after first claiming that the rise of LS was an Obama plot just six months ago: Shameless or what?

  78. sandy daugherty says:

    Let me remind everyone that this entire issue is political; neither rational, nor scientific, and definitely not fact based. But simply saying that something should not happen because it is senseless is a grave error. It is retiring from the field before the last battle.
    Please take the extra time to register your objection to any concession to LightSquared, by going to the FCC website. Instructions can be found at
    THEN the fat lady sings.

  79. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    I disagree, Sandy. The scientifically tested fact that LightSquared’s plan would indeed interfere with GPS signals is what has driven this regulatory process. The politics are overlays, and looking like really dumb ones at places like Fox and Forbes.
    Also that saveourgps link seems to be about generic FCC input. Here’s a better spot for viewing and submitting current LightSquared comments:
    Apparently comments are still open but with 3,246 already filed I’m not sure what else can be said. Note that I agree with all the pro LS comments about needing more broadband cellular spectrum, except that it can’t be at the expense of GPS. But it doesn’t have to be. I think the FCC knows that.

  80. Dan Corcoran (b393capt) says:

    Sandy, hey man, Thank You for your vigilance on this. I am certainly among the many who believe we watched this four alarm fire become yesterdays news, but appreciate you have your eye on the ruins to notice asap if some burning ember is left to re-ignite. Maybe there is a bottom couple of Mhz of spectrum that could re-ignite?
    No matter how irrational it was to think that some or even most of the upper 10Mhz could be used, it was a big surprise for me that the lower 10Mhz was determined to be unsuitable also. What a loss, the nation can use that spectrum more than most people realize. Credit to the FCC for allowing it to be vigorously debated in a way that the market appears to have arrived at the right answer in a reasonably quick time frame.

  81. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Dan. Twenty five years of federal Service, 12 inside the beltway, have given me a very cynical perspective of governmental processes. Greater errors have been made with lesser dollar amounts waving from the flag poles in the District.
    Conspiracy theorists note: I have not been threatened in any way, and my offer to change my tune has gone unanswered, as yet.

  82. Capn. Chuck says:

    It would appear that a new twist might be the final chapter in this story,–sector.html .

  83. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Interesting that the value of Lightsquared’s debt actually went up prior to last night’s bankruptcy filing. What next?

  84. Bill Lentz says:

    I know for fact that Lightsquared collocated on Lucent Network Vision Multi-mode bast station locations in the Baltimore market with Sprint. Sprint/ Lightsquared thought they would use these frequencies for point to point backhaul. I noticed from my latest Lucent site build pick list that the Lightsquared RHU’s (remote radio head units) are no longer in the pick list. It’s my understanding these sites were used as part of the GPS near far testing. How does using the Lightsquared spectrum as a networks PtP backhaul serve under served users? How is this part of their wholesale sales strategy?
    The entire deal appears to be so dead you could stick a fork in it.

  85. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Yup, Lightsquared is back! Now it’s called Ligado, and when you see Senators from both parties joining to complain about the possible danger to GPS, that’s probably a real concern:

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