PNT Advisory Board to hear Ligado plans

October 25, 2017  - By

Ligado Networks will appear and present at the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing Advisory Board’s (PNTAB) meeting on Nov. 15 in Southern California.

Ligado and its predecessors have sought to install high-powered ground transmitters that have been shown to harm and overwhelm GPS signals and receivers in their general vicinity. The controversy has simmered for at least eight years without resolution.

That final resolution will ultimately be taken by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), although congressional participation is also conceivable, since national infrastructure security is involved.

Meeting Locale. The PNTAB meeting will take place Wednesday, November 15, 2017, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; and Thursday, Nov. 16, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the Crowne Plaza Redondo Beach & Marina Hotel, 300 North Harbor Drive, Redondo Beach, California, approximately a half hour’s drive south of Los Angeles International Airport. The meeting will be open to the public up to the seating capacity of the room. Visitors will be requested to sign a visitor’s register.

From June 28, 2017, PNTAB presentation by Brad Parkinson.

The central issue in this long-running fight is the as-yet unknown — though uniformly predicted by the various rounds of testing over the last eight years — effects of Ligado signals on a huge installed industrial and governmental base of GPS receivers, some of which are essential to the nation’s critical infrastructure.

Ligado Networks, the current-day incarnation of once-bankrupt LightSquared, seeks FCC permission to apply the satellite-based frequency licenses it owns to be broadcast from a ground-based network. This would put a powerful nearby signal immediately adjacent to the much weaker, more distantly emanating GPS signals, and by the way, those from other GNSS as well. Tests in 2011 and further testing in 2016 demonstrated these powerful signals interfering with GPS receivers.

Brad Parkinson

The Ligado appearance comes in response to an open letter, posted on Oct. 10 by PNTAB First Vice-Chair Brad Parkinson, inviting Ligado CEO Doug Smith to speak to the Advisory Board. That invitation itself emerged after a season of what have been termed “attack” statements issued in various forums by Ligado, which were in turn stimulated by two early-summer letters:

1. A June 27 letter  from the American Geophysical Union, Aerospace Industries Association, American Meteorological Society, Aircraft Owners and Pilot s Association, Airlines for America, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, International Air Transport Association, Iridium Communications, Thales USA and other organizations (totaling 22) to the FCC opposing Ligado’s request.

“The undersigned organizations . . . write to reiterate that the threat of harmful interference from Ligado’s proposed ancillary terrestrial component (“ATC”) service remain real and persistent. Contra ry to the assertions in Ligado’s FCC advocacy and recent media blitz, its proposed terrestrial operations continue to pose a significant interference risk to numerous parties . . . . The risks to these critical services are very real and, consistent with the public interest, cannot be brushed aside.

That letter further notes that “Ligado seeks the ability to sell its spectrum to the highest bidder, underscoring the uncertainty of any prospective value of the services it has on previous occasions suggested it may provide. There is a clear effort by Ligado to downplay the significance of the technical concerns it continues to receive from numerous directions.”

2. A July 5 letter from the PNT Advisory Board to Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert O. Work and Deputy Secretary of Transportation Jeffrey A. Rosen, the co-chairs of the National Executive Committee for Space‐based Positioning, strongly opposing the Ligado proposal.

From June 28, 2017, PNTAB presentation by Brad Parkinson.

“The revised [Ligado] proposal to the FCC is fundamentally unchanged from a previous proposal reviewed in 2011. Extensive government testing in 2011 and in 2016, clearly shows that both proposals cause definitive harmful interference to many classes of GPS receivers.”

“All GPS stakeholders should be wary of any incremental approaches to deploying mobile broadband services in the mobile satellite systems (MSS) band. For example, initial services could operate at reduced power levels on a temporary basis to protect only a subset of GPS users, before moving to full — power levels that will cause widespread interference to many other classes of GPS users. Regulatory decisions must be based on the ultimate end-state of any systems proposed for operation in the bands adjacent to GPS, and must protect all classes of GPS users. Unfortunately, the latest industry proposal does not acknowledge the legitimacy of, and the need to protect, dozens of precise applications of great national importance.”

From June 28, 2017, PNTAB presentation by Brad Parkinson.

Round Two. The struggle has been a prolonged one, with many twists and turns, however coalescing into two main periods of activity:

  • 2011-12, when the first round of tests showed then-LightSquared’s proposed network would overload the vast majority of GPS receivers. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) tabled the proposal, and the company, holding spectrum licenses whose value could range far into the billions of dollars, filed for bankruptcy.
  • 2016–18. LightSquared emerged from Chapter 11 in 2015 as Ligado Networks, positing a modified network plan, but one whose organizing concept remains unchanged, causing deep and continued alarm over GPS interference. 2017 tests, conducted by a firm and a government organization hired by Ligado, essentially reconfirmed the 2011 results. The tests found that the proposed ground towers would significantly interfere with GPS receivers as far away as 4 to 5 kilometers, “killing them dead” in the words of one expert who reviewed the test data.

Parkinson’s October 10 letter invites Ligado CEO Doug Scott “to provide the committee with clear up-to-date design information. . . . How might the system as now envisioned be deployed? How many ground terminals are needed, for example, and where would they be?”

Previous LightSquared and Ligado presentations have been long on promise but short on details. In fact, sound technical underpinning has not been communicated.

From June 28, 2017, PNTAB presentation by Brad Parkinson.

Parkinson writes “we would therefore encourage you to specifically describe your implementation plan , with a corresponding test plan address ing the issues we have openly raised . We request you specifically focus on those regarding the potential for interfering with any GPS /GNSS services that operate in the protected Space – to – Earth L band (1559 – 1610 MHz) . Included should be all modes of operation and the use of all current and future GNSS sign als. Without these specific technical details and corresponding evaluations, we can only conjecture as to what you are really proposing .”

Later, he affirms “our focus is to provide advice based on deep engineering and related expertise . As you know, interference to GPS/GNSS can adversely affect numerous safety – of – life systems , other vital national assets, and applications comprising over $60 billion of annual U.S. productivity benefits .”

Parkinson and the PNTAB have had better luck securing a Ligado appearance than did GPS World magazine. In August of this year, Ligado’s senior vice president and chief engineer for radio access technologies thrice declined an invitation to give a brief Expert Opinion for the September issue on the question:  How can the safety, security, and full utility of GNSS applications be ensured while evolving best, most efficient use of limited, very valuable electromagnetic spectrum?

Just a Refresher. The PNTAB meeting will be held Wednesday, November 15, 2017, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; and Thursday, November 16, 2017, 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., at the Crowne Plaza Redondo Beach & Marina Hotel, 300 North Harbor Drive, Redondo Beach, CA, approximately a half hour’s drive south of Los Angeles International Airport. The meeting will be open to the public up to the seating capacity of the room. Visitors will be requested to sign a visitor’s register.

Ligado is by no means the only item on the Committee’s docket, but is very likely to be the pièce de résistance. The full agenda for the meeting includes:

  • Update on U.S. Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) Policy and Global Positioning System (GPS) modernization.
  • Prioritize current and planned GPS capabilities and services while assessing future PNT architecture alternatives with a focus on affordability.
  • Examine methods in which to Protect, Toughen, and Augment (PTA) access to GPS/Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) services in key domains for multiple user sectors.
  • Assess economic impacts of GPS/GNSS on the United States and in select international regions, with a consideration towards effects of potential PNT service disruptions if radio spectrum interference is introduced.
  • Review the potential benefits, perceived vulnerabilities, and any proposed regulatory constraints to accessing foreign Radio Navigation Satellite Service (RNSS) signals in the United States and subsequent impacts on multi-GNSS receiver markets.
  • Explore opportunities for enhancing the interoperability of GPS with other emerging international GNSS.
  • Examine emerging trends and requirements for PNT services in U.S. and international fora through PNT Board technical assessments, including back-up services for terrestrial, maritime, aviation, and space users.

View the Federal Register Notice here.

About the Author: Alan Cameron

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