LightSquared: Five Questions of My Own

November 10, 2011  - By
Image: GPS World

In true Wall Street lawyer fashion, LightSquared Executive VP Jeff Carlisle thinks he’s entitled to receive answers with regards to LightSquared’s GPS-jamming problem instead of providing answers. He seems to forget that LightSquared is the one applying for approval to proceed, and needs to provide the answers and solutions.

Interestingly enough, LightSquared’s questions really point out how ignorant the company continues to be about the GPS industry, which is surprising since it’s been about a year since it submitted its application to the FCC. By now, you’d think that the company would have performed enough due diligence to become familiar with the GPS industry. From the questions for which it demands answers, apparently not.

First of all — I’ve written before and I’ll write it again — the GPS user community is in its own corner on this issue. No one is looking out for your interest unless you are able to persuade your congressperson to act on your behalf.

Incidentally, I spoke to a state legislator last week who reached out to me about the LightSquared GPS-jamming issue. He was one of those legislators who had submitted a letter of support for LightSquared to the FCC during the public comment period. He said that LightSquared lobbyists were reaching out again last week to state legislators looking for letters of support. He said he didn’t know anything about the technology but believed LightSquared’s claims of 15,000 jobs being created. What he didn’t understand was the chaos it would cause to the economy with respect to small business (agriculture, engineering, construction), fed/state/local government, aviation, and military. Of course, once he understood the full impact, he made it clear that he would not approve of a system that would have a negative impact on GPS. When I informed him that there’s a solution being floated by LightSquared (the “fix”), but that it is yet to be vetted and that the upgrade cost would run into the billions, he concluded “we can’t afford it.”

I think this is a typical situation among legislators and other public officials who have voiced their support for LightSquared. They just don’t understand the issue and take what LightSquared lobbyists say at face value. Once it’s explained to them, they quickly understand that America can’t afford LightSquared’s current proposal.

Speaking of lobbyists, if you didn’t watch “60 Minutes” on November 6, take a look the following video on the corruption taking place in the U.S. Congress. It’s disgusting.

Now, back to the subject at hand.

Yes, Trimble, Deere/Navcom, Garmin, and other GPS manufacturers are putting up a good fight via the Coalition to Save Our GPS. They’ve invested tens of millions, if not more than $100 million, in this debate over the last year, largely on behalf of and in support of the GPS user community. But make no bones about it, if LightSquared is granted approval to proceed, and that action requires your equipment to be upgraded (if an upgrade is even possible), this will be a huge windfall for the GPS manufacturers. They will make a ton of money. Salespeople will sit back and take orders. There’s no easier business than a forced upgrade (do you remember the Y2K problem?).

That brings us to LightSquared’s first question to which it demands an answer.

LightSquared Question #1: Isn’t it true that the so-called “non-biased” PNT Advisory Board, which advises the Pentagon, is represented by board members of GPS companies who have a financial stake in LightSquared not getting approval to proceed?

They are referring primarily to Dr. Brad Parkinson, who has been a Trimble board member for many years, and who even acted as Trimble CEO for a period of time, more than a decade ago, after Charlie Trimble’s departure.

Dr. Parkinson is an aeronautical engineer. He’s retired from the U.S. Air Force (at the rank of colonel) and is a professor emeritus at Stanford University. He was the first GPS Program Manager for the U.S. Air Force, and is largely responsible for the GPS getting on the road to being what it is today.

LightSquared’s question implies that Dr. Parkinson, a Trimble shareholder and board member who has voiced his opposition to the LightSquared initiative, will somehow profit if LightSquared’s application is rejected by the FCC.

If LightSquared personnel put some thought into it, they’d understand that Trimble (and its shareholders) stand to make a lot more money if LightSquared is allowed to proceed than if it isn’t. In other words, if LightSquared is allowed to proceed, Trimble makes a ton of money in forced upgrades from GPS users who hadn’t planned on it.  If LightSquared isn’t allowed to proceed, Trimble has just spent a year and ~$25 million (my estimate) in direct and indirect costs participating in this fire drill, not to mention the opportunity cost of the distraction of high-level engineers and executives.

For example, the company/entity/individual who just bought the latest and greatest Belchfire XYZ GNSS receiver six months ago would face   an upgrade charge of thousands because it needs a new circuit board and a new antenna or antenna element. This would be gravy for Trimble because it’s revenue they thought they’d never see for a long time from a customer who just bought the receiver six months ago.

Again, this assumes a technical fix is possible. That hasn’t been proven yet.  Far from it.

LightSquared Question #2: Numerous annual reports and SEC filings from GPS manufacturers going back to 2001 acknowledge material harm to their business due to interference with neighboring spectrum. Why did you not prepare your devices with filters if you’ve known for ten years there would be interference problems caused by your devices looking into adjacent spectrum?

Ok, for how long does LightSquared want to continue ignoring the fact that LightSquared and its predecessors (Skyterra, MSV) encouraged GPS receiver manufacturers to design GPS receivers that “look” into the MSS spectrum?

Why would LightSquared and its predecessors encourage this?

The answer? Because LightSquared and its predecessors sell satellite data communications services to the GPS industry using the MSS spectrum (via OmniSTAR), generating tens of millions of dollars in revenue from LightSquared and its predecessors.

Now, if LightSquared chooses not to sell those satellite data communication services to the GPS industry any longer, that’s the company’s choice, but don’t blame the receiver because it was designed to receive LightSquared’s satellite data communication service it was promoting. That sort of logic is, well, illogical.

LightSquared Question #3: True or false? Did the GPS industry manufacture devices knowing there would be interference with neighboring spectrum because this enhanced their performance?

False. LightSquared promoted GPS receivers be designed to access the MSS spectrum in order to access its satellite data communication services that it sells to the GPS industry. Furthermore, LightSquared profited from it.

LightSquared Question #4: Who funds the Coalition to Save Our GPS?

I don’t know. Who cares? Certainly not Friends of LightSquared. Can you really not figure that out?

LightSquared Question #5: Did the GPS industry falsely claim that it would take billions of dollars and more than a decade to find a solution to this problem?

I don’t know who made this statement, but it wasn’t me.

I do believe that LightSquared has no clue as to the extent of the negative economic impact its proposed system will cause — and it doesn’t care. The $50 million the company has pledged to repair damage it creates to federal government GPS users constitutes a sliver of what it will actually take.

But all of this is moot until any sort of proposed “fix” is fully understood and vetted across all product lines and markets. Clearly, LightSquared does not understand the extent of the problem its system causes; otherwise it would have never predicted an FCC decision by the end of this year.

My Questions

I was offered the opportunity to interview LightSquared a few months ago. I declined. It’s senseless to speak to a lawyer or marketing guy about this technology. They don’t know what they are talking about. They just regurgitate the same senseless spin.

But, given that they keep ignoring the fact that they sell satellite data communications services to the GPS industry utilizing the MSS spectrum, I’d pose these questions:

Question #1 to LightSquared: True or false, does LightSquared sell satellite data communication data services to the GPS industry via frequencies in the MSS spectrum (1525-1559MHz)?

Question #2 to LightSquared: True or false, did LightSquared’s predecessors, Skyterra and MSV, sell satellite data communications services to the GPS industry via frequencies in the MSS spectrum (1525-1559MHz)?

Question #3 to LightSquared: When did LightSquared and its predecessors (Skyterra/MSV) first begin selling satellite data communication services to the GPS industry via frequencies in the MSS spectrum (1525-1559MHz)?

Question #4 to LightSquared: How much gross revenue, in total, has LightSquared and its predecessors (Skyterra and MSV) generated from the GPS industry since they began selling said services to the GPS industry via frequencies in the MSS spectrum (1525-1559MHz)?

Question #5 to LightSquared: List all of the frequencies in the MSS spectrum that LightSquared and its predecessors (Skyterra and MSV) have utilized in delivering satellite data communication services to the GPS industry since LightSquared/Skyterra/MSV began selling said services?

Let’s see if LightSquared is as bold in answering questions as they are in asking.

Thanks, and see you next time.

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