Jamming GPS Signals, the Lightsquared Way

Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 05:49PM - Comments: (5)

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.

Philip Falcone

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.


Comments (5)

It will be a bad day indeed if one of the government's great "aids to navigation" programs, available to all on land, air and sea, can be tampered with by someone looking to make a buck to the public's detriment.

Thanks for exposing this offensive move.

Posted by: DeLavigne K | January 6, 2012 10:33 PM    Report this comment

Kick the bums out - anyone would be better than what we have running the country now. The GPS business will be dead at the slightest hint of support for Lightsquared.

Posted by: DWAYNE M | December 22, 2011 5:00 PM    Report this comment

Lightsquared response to criticism is to denounce the GPS "industry" for using their (Lightsquared's) bandwidth. They couldn't care less about the GPS user. We can only hope that the FCC has a different perspective.
Arnold S

Posted by: ARNOLD S | December 22, 2011 1:07 PM    Report this comment

What amazes me about the FCC even considering letting lightsquared do what it wants to do, is the safety issues surrounding American citizens, our military, and private businesses that depend on a working GPS system in the U.S. Here is a perfect case of our government "not" looking out for its citizens interests.

Posted by: Donald G | December 22, 2011 12:03 PM    Report this comment

A really important issue. I hope your conclusion is right, but somehow I'm not too hopeful that Lightsquared will be derailed.

Posted by: James W | December 22, 2011 11:16 AM    Report this comment

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