LightSquared’s Toughest Week So Far

September 16, 2011  - By

Like a bad week on the stock exchange, LightSquared hit speed bump after speed bump this week. After Monday when the company boldly claimed there would “be a resolution within a month” to the GPS interference problem, the FCC spanked them Tuesday by ordering more testing. The rest of the week turned even more sour.

First of all, if you want a good backgrounder on the issue as it relates to the high-precision GPS/GNSS user, you can view my webinar “LightSquared: What It Means To the GPS Surveying/Mapping Community.”

The issue really isn’t about blame, which is how LightSquared is trying to frame it with the “the GPS industry knew about it” argument. The fact is that hundreds of thousands (LightSquared estimates 750,000 to 1 million) of high-precision GPS receivers would be affected. These are high-end receivers valued at thousands and tens of thousands of dollars each.

This week (September 12-16), things turned sour for LightSquared. Most alarming is that it really demonstrated how flakey LightSquared’s thought process is, thus substantially reducing the company’s credibility.


On Monday, it was reported that LightSquared said it was confident the FCC would make a decision in the next month. LightSquared Executive VP Martin Harriman said Monday at the Mobile Future Conference “We are at the end of the process and we expect the FCC to make a decision. We have made some big concessions… Sprint wouldn’t sign this big deal if it didn’t expect it to be resolved. I expect there to be a resolution in the next month.”

Does he really think people are that stupid? Obviously, Sprint would love to have $9 billion of LightSquared’s money, but I guarantee the contract is contingent upon LightSquared gaining approval from the FCC. If I was Sprint, I’d sign it, too. There’s no downside for Sprint to sign the deal!

After LightSquared’s statement on Monday, the week started going downhill in a hurry for the company.


On Tuesday, a day after LightSquared applied pressure and said it “expects the FCC to make a decision,” the FCC threw LightSquared a right jab by issuing a Public Notice stating that further testing is needed to understand the impact of LightSquared’s latest proposal. Following is from the FCC’s Public Notice:

“This Public Notice is issued pursuant to the provision of LightSquared Subsidiary LLC’s (LightSquared) conditional Ancillary Terrestrial Component (ATC) authorization that LightSquared may not commence ATC operations until the Commission, in consultation with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), finds that Global Positioning System (GPS) interference concerns have been satisfactorily resolved. Following extensive comments received as a result of the technical working group process required by the International Bureau’s Order and Authorization dated January 26, 2011, the Federal Communications Commission, in consultation with NTIA, has determined that additional targeted testing is needed to ensure that any potential commercial terrestrial services offered by LightSquared will not cause harmful interference to GPS operations.”

Furthermore, the FCC Public Notice stated:

“LightSquared submitted proposed mitigation techniques to remedy the interference to GPS simultaneously with the technical working group final report. Notably, LightSquared proposed to revise its planned deployment to operate terrestrial transmitters only in the lower 10 MHz of its spectrum. The results thus far from the testing using the lower 10 MHz showed significant improvement compared to tests of the upper 10 MHz, although there continue to be interference concerns, e.g., with certain types of high precision GPS receivers, including devices used in national security and aviation applications.Additional tests are therefore necessary.”

It was a no-brainer that the FCC would take this route. It really makes one wonder what these LightSquared guys are thinking. Maybe they think if they behave arrogantly enough, they can “will it” to happen?


This story got even better on Wednesday.

On Wednesday, LightSquared representatives announced that they miraculously “found the solution” to the GPS interference problem with Jeff Carlisle stating, “We have a proof of concept that uses current technology and equipment that is available today and is affordable.” Riiiiight. Obviously, this guy never ran a product development project. He has nothing but a conceptual idea of how the problem might be solved. He further stated that LightSquared’s solution can be placed into production within several months.

Implementing in the field is a lot different than proving a concept in a lab. Several months? Are you kidding me? Dude, you can’t even get your testing done on all the different GPS makes/models in “several months.” You can’t responsibly test your design concept in “several months,” and you’re already talking about going into mass production in “several months”? Honestly, I’ve lost a lot of respect for LightSquared this week.

The Technical Working Group (TWG) didn’t test all makes/models of receivers that would be affected, only a sample set. In fact, just like LightSquared’s lack of due diligence in researching the GPS markets to begin with, the company’s doing enough now just to slide by, taking the shortest cut possible. I guarantee you it will be a disaster for the high-precision GPS markets if the LightSquared guys are granted permission to move forward, given their attitude and behavior. Responsible design engineers don’t behave this way. In fact, I’m guessing the design engineer(s) behind the scenes at LightSquared cringe whenever LightSquared executives (e.g., lawyers) make these kinds of flakey statements.

OK, let’s think about LightSquared’s “fix” for a minute. For sure, it’s going to be a hardware accessory and/or a new antenna, or both. Think about all the high-performance GPS handhelds on the market (Trimble GeoXT/XH, Ashtech ProMark, Mobile Mapper, etc.). Are they really going to suggest a LightSquared “clip-on” accessory for those handheld units? Seriously? How about replacing antennas on CORS? New antennas would need to be characterized by NGS. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. All of this in “several months”?

I’ve been pretty open-minded about LightSquared proposing a solution, but this really insults our intelligence. But as we’ve seen previously with LightSquared, it’s not about finding a practical solution for the GPS user community; it’s all about selling an idea to the FCC. The problem is that the FCC doesn’t have to live with LightSquared’s half-baked “solution,” we do.

Ok, that’s about enough news on LightSquared for the week, right?

Not a chance.


On Thursday, The Daily Beast reported that General William Shelton, commander of the U.S. Space Command, said in a classified briefing that the White House tried to pressure him to change his testimony to make it more favorable to LightSquared.

The Daily Beast reported that Shelton’s prepared testimony was leaked in advance to LightSquared. Reports the website, “The White House asked the general to alter the testimony to add two points
: that the general supported the White House policy to add more broadband for commercial use; and that the Pentagon would try to resolve the questions around LightSquared with testing in just 90 days. Shelton chafed at the intervention, which seemed to soften the Pentagon’s position and might be viewed as helping the company as it tries to get the project launched, the officials said.”

The White House confirmed Wednesday that its Office of Management and Budget suggested changes to the general’s testimony but insisted such reviews are routine and not influenced by politics. And it said Shelton will be permitted to give the testimony he wants, without any pressure.

Kudos to General Shelton for speaking out. His career will likely take a hit for this, especially if this turns into a major political scandal.

Subsequently, the National Journal reported that Congressman Mike Turner (R-OH), a member of the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, said at a hearing of the Strategic Force panel:

“In my capacity as a member of the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, I will be asking Chairman Issa [Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.] and Ranking Member Towns [Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y.] to promptly investigate this matter.”

Also on Thursday, Congressman Tom Petri (R-WI) spanked LightSquared for its advertisement in the Wall Street Journal. In response to LightSquared’s claim that the GPS industry is to blame, Petri wrote:

“This ignores the fact that GPS was located on this part of the spectrum long before LightSquared devised its plan to employ a terrestrial network within the Satellite band of radio spectrum.

“In fact, your spectrum was purchased at bargain prices because it was not intended for terrestrial operations,” Petri continued.  “If it were always intended for such use, it would have been of much higher value. It became high-value spectrum when it became clear that LightSquared’s business plan was to abuse the ancillary terrestrial authorization and use the spectrum for terrestrial based operations — a radical change to the intended use of spectrum.

“I would suggest that it is LightSquared using a part of the spectrum for inappropriate purposes that has led to this dilemma,” Petri wrote.  “Don’t blame GPS, a service that is vital to our national security, aviation safety and efficiency, serves billions of users and the overall public good.”


Rounding out the week, on Friday one of Fox News’ lead stories was titled “General Reported He Was Pressured on Testimony About White House-backed Project, Sources Say.” This is a good thing. There’s no way LightSquared is going to fly under the radar at this point.


Rally Organized to Protest Potential GPS Band Interference by LightSquared

Gavin Schrock, administrator of the Washington State RTK Network (WSRN) consisting of nearly 100 GNSS reference stations, is helping organize a rally to be held on September 22 at 8:30 a.m. in front of the Jackson Federal Building in Seattle. The rally is intended to support GPS and express concerns over a controversial application by LightSquared being considered by the FCC that would cause substantial interference for GPS users.

He says similar rallies for the same day are being organized in other cities. “These rallies are in support of GPS as a critical public resource, and to voice end user concerns over the proposal being considered by the FCC that could cause damaging interference for high-precision GPS for end users like surveyors, aviation, construction, science, industry, and public safety (a.k.a. the “LightSquared” issue),” Schrock said.

“The rallies are being spearheaded by surveyors and surveying associations, but other end-user segments are pitching in, like precision agriculture, academia, aviation, and public safety. This is purely grassroots about this specific issue with no other agenda,” he said.

When I mentioned to him the rally is taking place during the week of the Institute of Navigation (ION) GNSS technical conference in Portland, OR, he said it was planned that way. Good idea. In fact, on Wednesday evening during the ION conference, there’s a LightSquared Discussion Panel taking place (see below).


LightSquared Discussion Panel Next Week at the Institute of Navigation (ION) GNSS Conference

The discussion panel will be held during the ION-GNSS conference at the Oregon Convention Center, 5:30 p.m.-7:00 p.m. Titled “Can LightSquared and GPS Coexist?”, the session will be moderated by GPS industry veteran Tom Stansell with the panel including:

Michael Swiek – U.S. GPS Industry Council

Bruce Peetz – Vice President Advanced Technology and Systems, Trimble Navigation Ltd

Scott Burgett – Software Engineering Manger – Garmin Ltd

Patrick Fenton – Chief Technology Officer – NovAtel Inc

Dr. Paul Galyean – Director of Precise Positioning Systems – Deere & Co./NavCom

Doug Smith – Chief Network Officer – LightSquared

Greg Turetzky – Marketing Director for New Technology and IP –  CSR/SiRF

According to Tom, “this ION meeting will be fairly technical in nature, with panelists talking about the test results and their implications”.

I will be present at the event and possibly assisting Tom in facilitating the discussions (e.g., microphone runner). Follow my Twitter account if you want to follow the event closely.

It’s a good mix of very knowledgeable people who can intimately discuss many applications of GPS/GNSS technology, from agriculture and surveying/mapping to consumer applications.

Each panel member will be allotted ten minutes or less, followed by a Q&A session.


Getting the latest GPS/GNSS (not just LightSquared) news

If you haven’t signed up for Twitter, please consider it. It’s become a very popular method of getting relevant news quickly. I’ve been using it a lot to blog about conferences and events I’ve been attending. I’m able to attached photos to my Twitter messages to bring you closer to what I’m experiencing. Earlier this week, I was at the Field Technology Conference which I helped organize and sent quite a few Twitter messages with photos about the technical presentations. If your travel budget has been hit hard and you can’t attend conferences you’d like, this is a great way to stay connected to leading edge subjects being discussed at conferences.

I’ll be sending tweets frequently from the ION GNSS conference next week and the INTERGEO conference the week after.

You can sign up for a free Twitter account here.


U.S House Committee Committee on Science, Space, Technology “Full Committee Hearing – Impacts of the LightSquared Network” – September 8, 2011

If you have a chance, listen to all or parts of this hearing:

Testimony is given by:


Mr. Anthony Russo, Director, The National Coordination Office for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing

Ms. Mary Glackin, Deputy Under Secretary, National Oceanic and Atmosph
eric Administration

Dr. Victor Sparrow, Director, Spectrum Policy, Space Communications and Navigation, Space Operations Mission Directorate, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Mr. Peter Appel, Administrator, Research and Innovative Technology Administration, Department of Transportation

Dr. David Applegate, Associate Director, Natural Hazards, U.S. Geological Survey

Jeffrey J. Carlisle, Executive Vice President, Regulatory Affairs and Public Policy, LightSquared

Dr. Scott Pace, Director, Space Policy Institute, George Washington University


U.S. House Armed Services Committee Hearing on “Sustaining GPS for National Security – September 15, 2011


If you have a chance, listen to all or parts of this hearing:

Testimony is given by:


General William L. Shelton, Commander, U.S. Air Force Space Command

Ms. Teresa M. Takai, Chief Information Officer, U.S. Department of Defense

Mr. Karl Nebbia, Associate Administrator, Office of Spectrum Management, National Telecommunications and Information Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce

Mr. Anthony J. Russo, National Coordination Office, Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Training, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Mr. Julius Knapp, Chief of the Office of Engineering Technology, Federal Communications Commission



Thanks, and see you next time.
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About the Author: Eric Gakstatter

Eric Gakstatter has been involved in the GPS/GNSS industry for more than 20 years. For 10 years, he held several product management positions in the GPS/GNSS industry, managing the development of several medium- and high-precision GNSS products along with associated data-collection and post-processing software. Since 2000, he's been a power user of GPS/GNSS technology as well as consulted with capital management companies; federal, state and local government agencies; and private companies on the application and/or development of GPS technology. Since 2006, he's been a contributor to GPS World magazine, serving as editor of the monthly Survey Scene newsletter until 2015, and as editor of Geospatial Solutions monthly newsletter for GPS World's sister site Geospatial Solutions, which focuses on GIS and geospatial technologies.