National PNT Engineering Forum rejects Ligado test results

March 27, 2018  - By

An independent technical review published earlier this month found sufficient data in three government-conducted tests to assess the risk of using frequencies near the GPS band for a ground-based communications network — specifically, the one proposed by Ligado Networks. The panel rejected two tests sponsored by Ligado Networks, saying they did not meet minimum criteria for inclusion or use.

The testing and various hearings before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) come in response to increasing demand for commercial spectrum to support broadband wireless communications. The FCC and other branches of U.S. government are giving serious consideration to repurposing various radio frequencies, including the satellite communications bands next to GPS, to accommodate this.

Ligado Networks has petitioned the FCC to repurpose satellite frequencies near GPS to also support terrestrial telecom services, effectively transferring its license for space-based broadcasting to powerful terrestrially-based broadcast towers. Ligado’s custom networks would provide services for industrial operations such as power grids and connectivity for drones and driverless cars, in addition to consumer broadband services.

The National Executive Committee of the government’s National Coordination Office for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing released the assessment by its National Space-Based PNT Systems Engineering Forum (NPEF) of testing methodologies used to analyze the impacts of adjacent band interference on GPS receivers. The assessment is also known as the “gap analysis.”

The NPEF evaluated five tests performed by the following organizations, the first three of them government organizations and the last two private tests sponsored  by Ligado with little or no public or government input:

  • Federal Communication Commission (FCC)-mandated Technical Working Group (TWG) — done in 2011.
  • National Space-Based PNT Systems Engineering Forum (NPEF) — done in 2011.
  • Department of Transportation (DOT) Adjacent Band Compatibility (ABC) — done in 2017 but not previously released.
  • Roberson and Associates (RAA)
  • National Advanced Spectrum and Communications Test Network (NASCTN).

The gap analysis concluded that the results from the first three tests are sufficient and appropriate to inform spectrum policy makers on the major impacts of a proposed LTE network on GPS receivers. The DOT test results revealed the power levels that GPS and GNSS receivers can tolerate from interference sources in the adjacent band in an effort to inform the enforcement of a GPS interference protection criterion.

PNT Advisory Board's set of minimum criteria. The two Ligado-sponsored tests are the RAA and the NASCTN. (Image: PNTAB)

PNT Advisory Board’s set of minimum criteria. The two Ligado-sponsored tests are the RAA and the NASCTN. (Image: PNTAB)

The NPEF team found the scope and framework of the last two tests, sponsored by Ligado, to be insufficient when evaluated against the PNT Advisory Board’s set of minimum criteria. Key among these criteria is one that specifies use of the internationally accepted 1 dB degradation Interference Protection Criterion (IPC):  a one-decibel (1 dB) degradation in C/N0, the carrier-to-noise power density ratio. Ligado has tried to redefine the standard measurement of interference to one more in its favor: a change in positioning and timing accuracy.

For further background on this and other aspects of the gap analysis, see the January 2018 GPS World article by Brad Parkinson, “A Grave Threat to GPS and GNSS.”

The NPEF strongly recommended that decisions impacting the GPS radio frequency environment be informed by data from tests that align with the PNTAB’s set of minimum criteria and with full consideration of the potential operational, scientific, and economic impacts.

The full gap analysis study can be downloaded here.

The NPEF is co-chaired by the Departments of Defense and Transportation and consists of representatives from at least 14 federal agencies.

About the Author: Alan Cameron

Alan Cameron is the former editor-at-large of GPS World magazine.