LightSquared claims GPS industry rigged tests

LightSquared says its LTE network was tested against obsolete GPS devices

LightSquared's proposed mobile data network was set up to fail in tests of interference with GPS that were conducted last November under government auspices, the would-be cellular carrier charged on Wednesday.

Makers of GPS (Global Positioning System) equipment put old and incomplete GPS receivers in the test so the results would show interference, under the cover of non-disclosure agreements that prevented the public and third parties from analyzing the process, LightSquared executives said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday morning.

The charges fleshed out a series of claims by the company that the approval process for its LTE (Long-Term Evolution) network is unfair. LightSquared is seeking a waiver from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that requires all harmful interference with GPS to be resolved. The FCC is working with the NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration) to evaluate the interference problem.

Though the November tests were ordered by the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing Executive Committee (PNT ExComm) and conducted at an Air Force base, GPS vendors were allowed to choose what devices would be tested for interference, LightSquared said. The vendors deliberately chose obsolete and niche GPS devices that would show the most interference, the company claimed. The tests also included receivers that were tested without interference filters that normally would be included in a complete device for consumers, according to LightSquared.

And because all participants were bound to non-disclosure agreements, those details were not disclosed to the public or to LightSquared, said Jeffrey Carlisle, the company's vice president of regulatory affairs and public policy. LightSquared has since learned what devices were used but can't disclose those itself because of a non-disclosure agreement, Carlisle said.

"We believe that the testing is invalid," Carlisle said.

Though the test results have not been released, on Friday the PNT ExComm said it had concluded from the results that LightSquared's network could not be made compatible with GPS. It recommended no more tests take place, even though a further round of tests, for high-precision GPS gear, had been expected to take place this month.

Though LightSquared said it has enough funding to keep operating for "several quarters," the company aims to launch its network this year and faces a deadline from its network-building partner, Sprint Nextel, to get FCC approval by the end of this month. On the call, LightSquared said it believed that a new round of more accurate testing could be carried out by the end of February.

The Coalition to Save Our GPS, which represents many GPS vendors and opposes LightSquared's plan, rejected the company's claims and defended the tests.

"The technical evidence speaks for itself and no individual, company or government body can legitimately be blamed for the clear defects of LightSquared's ill-conceived proposal," the group said in a statement Wednesday.

The FCC declined to comment on the validity of the tests.

"We are awaiting completion of recommendations from NTIA. As we have said from the outset, the FCC will not lift the prohibition on LightSquared to begin commercial operations unless harmful interference issues are resolved," FCC spokeswoman Tammy Sun said via email.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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