Jamming GPS Signals, the Lightsquared Way
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 05:49PM - Comments: (5)
December 20, 2011
This month’s report on satellite communication devices focuses on existing technology, so it does not dig into one of the more controversial satcomm topics of the moment: a proposal by the upstart wireless company Lightsquared to provide a combined satellite and land-based broadband service that will reach remote areas of the United States where broadband is not yet available.
While the idea of giving everyone the ability to stream reruns of "The Simpons" at lightning speed seems noble, Lightsquared’s $14 billion plan does so at the expense of GPS-based navigation systems—the kind that land you safely at O’Hare.
A series of tests earlier this year conducted by U.S. agencies has clearly shown that Lightsquared’s proposed system will disrupt or jam GPS signals. Last week, the National Executive Committee of the Space-Based Positioning Navigation and Timing (PNT) released a statement indicating that even Lightsquared’s revised plan to use only a portion of its spectrum interferes with critical GPS devices.
Citing Lightsquared’s commitment to expanding broadband coverage and providing more wireless competition, the FCC has so far offered conditional approval for Lightsquared’s petition to use the bandwidth, even making exceptions to its own rules. The FCC’s actions have provoked an outcry from boaters, farmers, and aviation groups, who also point to an unholy alliance between Lightsquared and the White House. Donations to Democratic Senatorial Campaign Fund from Philip Falcone, chief executive officer of Harbinger Capital Partners, the venture capital group backing Lightsquared, and a web of relations between current Lightsquared officials and the Obama administration offer a discouraging picture of business as usual inside the beltway. Falcone, some may recall, made billions shorting subprime mortgages.
Should we worry? Probably not. Unless the FCC continues to make exceptions for Lightsquared, it appears the laws of physics are in our favor. It also appears the company may soon find itself short of cash. The company has become enough of a political hot-potato to preclude any FCC favoritism—although the FCC bandwidth goldmine will probably never be free of political meddling. According to Reuters report this week, Lightsquared will be out of funds by the second quarter of 2012. Let’s hope Falcone comes to his senses and no one decides to pick up where he leaves off. And let's hope the FCC sets its ship back on course.