Embattled startup LightSquared unveiled on Wednesday a “simple and inexpensive” global positioning system that it says will make GPS units more compatible with the company’s planned nationwide wireless network.
LightSquared called the prototype, designed by the GPS company Javad GNSS, a “breakthrough development” that will help the company overcome mounting concerns that the new network could interfere or entirely block GPS.
“This breakthrough is a final step toward LightSquared’s goal of building a nationwide wireless network that will bring lower prices and better service to Americans from coast to coast,” LightSquared CEO Sanjiv Ahuja said in a statement.
Ahuja has long argued that the interference problems, caused by the proximity of LightSquared’s transmissions to the spectrum used by GPS satellites, could be easily solved.
The GPS industry and defense officials who depend on the systems disagree, and Wednesday's announcement did little to win over critics.
“LightSquared has, as usual, oversimplified and greatly overstated the significance of the claims of a single vendor to have ‘solved’ the interference issue," the Coalition to Save Our GPS, which includes many GPS companies and others that use the system, said in a statement. "There have been many vendor claims that have not proven out in rigorous tests and the demanding tests of marketplace acceptance. Moreover, this is not a one-size-fits-all situation, and a few prototypes does not a solution make."
The coalition welcomed new testing of the prototype, but said LightSquared must assume any costs of making GPS units compatible. LightSquared says it is talking to government officials about the possibility of paying to update federal high-precision GPS devices. The company has no plans to pay for all commercial devices.
But Javad Ashjaee, who developed the LightSquared filter, said that because of changes not caused by LightSquared, all GPS receivers will need to be updated by 2020 anyway.
“The tests conducted so far by the GPS industry did not take into account the GPS modernization plan that is in place,” Ashjaee said. “Since we have demonstrated that LightSquared can certainly coexist with the current GPS satellite signals, the coexistence will be even stronger when the new GPS satellites … are launched.”
Many in the GPS industry have called for LightSquared to completely abandon its plan to use spectrum near GPS and create a buffer zone. But Ashjaee argued that it is up to the GPS users to separate the transmissions.
“The truth is that high-precision GPS users have a wide range of interference issues to contend with—from congested frequencies to intentional jamming. As LightSquared’s spectrum neighbor, it’s our obligation to build a wall between our spectrum and LightSquared’s. My filter accomplishes that goal.”
The filter, which has yet to be reviewed by other GPS or federal officials, will only prevent interference on the spectrum farthest away from GPS, and it is unclear exactly how many kinds of devices it will work with.
The Federal Communications Commission has said it will not allow LightSquared’s network to become operational without first resolving the interference issues.
Republicans in Congress, meanwhile, have seized upon reports that LightSquared sought to curry favor with the Obama administration. Several House committees have launched probes of the company’s interactions with administration officials.
In a letter to the White House on Tuesday, House lawmakers compared LightSquared to Solyndra, a green-energy company mired in controversy over government loans it received.
While LightSquared hasn’t received federal money, members of Congress pointed to allegedly close contact between officials and the company as it sought federal approval.
“As with the LightSquared project, questions about the Solyndra deal include whether Solyndra wasn’t scrutinized closely because a major investor in the business was a major fundraiser for the president’s 2008 campaign,” eight members of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee wrote in the letter. “While some may call it a coincidence, we remain skeptical that shortly after two separate sets of meetings and meeting requests one year apart, LightSquared employees made five-figure donations to the Democratic Party.”
In a letter of her own on Wednesday, Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., a top lawmaker on telecom issues, defended LightSquared's plans.
“LightSquared’s proposal to build a nationwide terrestrial-based wireless broadband network offers exciting job opportunities for our nation,” Eshoo wrote to Larry Strickling, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which has called for more testing of LightSquared’s network. “It is well worth the effort to work on interference issues to the nearby GPS band.”
In the letter, obtained by National Journal, Eshoo said she believes LightSquared’s network can eventually become operational without harming GPS.