Federal government tests confirmed that the proposed LightSquared wireless service disrupts flight-safety equipment that uses GPS to help keep airliners from hitting the ground.
The finding, which had been widely leaked, strikes a heavy blow to the company’s efforts to create a wholesale, satellite-based wireless network.
The Defense and Transportation departments issued a joint statement on Wednesday saying that the wireless startup’s 4G LTE network signals interfere with a flight-safety system designed to warn pilots of approaching terrain as well as with consumer GPS devices.
They don’t, however, interfere with cell phones, a crumb of good news the company immediately leapt on.
“We are pleased that the statement issued by the National Space-Based PNT Executive Committee, chaired by the Department of Defense and the Department of Transportation, validates LightSquared's compatibility with the nation's 300 million cellular phones,” LightSquared CEO Sanjiv Ahuja said in a statement.
“While we are eager to continue to work with the Federal Aviation Administration on addressing the one remaining issue regarding terrain avoidance systems, we profoundly disagree with the conclusions drawn with respect to general navigation devices.”
LightSquared has been struggling to defend its proposed network against accusations that it would disrupt GPS services for users ranging from pilots to farmers, who need them to guide tractors. It has proposed offering wholesale spectrum to clients who are struggling to meet growing demand for a limited commodity – broadband capacity.
LightSquared says its service could provide high-speed mobile Internet service to as many as 260 million people; the venture has $3 billion in backing from Philip Falcone’s Harbinger Capital Partners hedge fund.
Ahuja repeated LightSquared’s contention that his company's signals aren’t interfering with GPS devices, but that the GPS devices are the source of the problem.
“The testing further confirmed that the interference issues are not caused by LightSquared's spectrum, but by GPS devices looking into spectrum that is licensed to LightSquared,” Ahuja said.
“We have taken extraordinary measures — and at extraordinary expense — to solve a problem that is not of our making. We continue to believe that LightSquared and GPS can co-exist. And we will continue to work with the federal government on a solution that will allow us to begin investing $14 billion in private money into the infrastructure of America to create jobs, competition and increased access to technology to the nation.”