GPS-enabled devices could be compromised if a plan to expand the United States’ broadband system goes forward, yet the company that proposes to build a broadband cell-phone communications network it calls LightSquared, 4G-LTE wireless broadband, is as yet completely undaunted by marine industry concern that the vital GPS system is under threat.
It confirmed that in late December, sending the FCC a petition asking for a declaratory ruling endorsing its right as a radio spectrum licensee to put its system in place. It is making no claim it won’t interfere with GPS; in fact, it’s saying the GPS industry has no right to ask the FCC for protection from LightSquared.
The firm needed a waiver from the Federal Communications Commission because its license was limited to low-power satellite communication and its plan calls for high-power land-based signals.
The FCC granted the waiver last January. That news was received with shock and horror by the makers and users of GPS devices and organizations that represent them, and for good reason. The LightSquared network has the potential to destroy GPS as we know it. (See Sail-World story from August 2011.)
That could happen because the frequencies LightSquared would operate on are next to those used by GPS. Satellites in the GPS system send signals with minuscule amounts of power. LightSquared signals would be many multiple times stronger, and could effectively make the GPS system inoperable.
The FCC acknowledged that possibility in January 2011 when it issued the waiver with a condition—it would only take effect if the LightSquared network did not interfere with GPS. However, in the latest demand for a ruling, LightSquared is apparently making no claim that their system won't interfere with the current GPS network.
In a tacit admission that its network would indeed be a threat to disable GPS, LightSquared published the video here showing how modified GPS antennae are not affected by the new LightSquared system. Watch the video below, which begs the question - who pays for replacement or modification of the thousands and thousands of GPS antennae that are out there today?
Some GPS experts in the marine industry have expressed doubts that modifications of existing GPS systems would even work, and, after the demand from LightSquared, concern is rising to anger.
In the summer of 2010 the U.S. Air Force Space Command conducted a series of tests which showed that LightSquared did indeed interfere with GPS unacceptably. LightSquared complains that these tests have been kept secret, and so can't examine or defend them. So they're angry too.
The origin of the problem was that the U.S. National Broadband Plan, mandated by Congress in early 2009, directed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to develop a plan to ensure every American has 'access to broadband capability,' especially in rural and under-served areas.
One thing is sure. The GPS system is probably the greatest innovation to hit the maritime world since the invention of the sail. It certainly needs to be protected, and cruising sailors, along with the rest of the maritime world, should not have to pay for the introduction of another, profit-making, system.
To read a technical discussion of the issues surrounding the wrangle, go to Spectrum Talk.
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