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What Is the Future of GPS and the AE Industry?

There is a large debate going on in Washington and across the country concerning the future of GPS. The debate surrounds the company LightSquared and their proposed wireless broadband network.

LightSquared is a private company with plans to develop a 4G-LTE (Long Term Evolution) broadband wireless communication network that incorporates satellite and land based transmitters to provide coverage across the United States. LightSquared controls 1525-1559MHZ of the United States spectrum and received U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) authorization in 2004 to build its nationwide network.

Over recent years, there has been much debate over the potential for interference with GPS devices currently in use. In January of this year as the FCC was considering a modification to LightSquared current FCC authorization, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) chief Lawrence Strickling sent a letter to the FCC saying that LightSquared hybrid mobile broadband services raise “significant interference concerns”. Portions of his letter outlined concerns expressed to NITA from Departments of Defense, Transportation and Homeland Security. Additional concerns have been expressed by private companies providing global positioning systems and the United States Air Force, operator of the GPS system.

The FCC granted LightSquared a Modification of its Authority for an Ancillary Terrestrial Component on January 26, 2011, saying they could find “good cause” to grant LightSquared a conditional waiver for services provided by LightSquared using Mobile Satellite Services (MSS) L-band spectrum.
As private AE firms, construction and agricultural industries become more dependent on precision GPS equipment to determine locations within centimeters, system users need to be aware of some of the most recent discussions concerning high precision GPS units and how some believe they will be affected by the LightSquared network. The primary issue with high precision GPS receivers is their relative sensitivity due to the extremely weak signal strength from space. Powerful base stations proposed by LightSquared (possibly in the tens of thousands) will transmit in a portion of the L-band MSS spectrum very close to the GPS spectrum, potentially causing signal interference.

Recent articles just last month published by Rueters have discussed some of the interference issues and LightSquared’s potential solutions. On September 14, 2011 Reuters reported that a new plan by LightSquared “did not address interference problems for some high-precision GPS devices that need to be accurate within centimeters for military, aviation, agriculture, construction, surveying and other applications.”

Fox News reported that during testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, General William Shelton, head of Air Force Space Command, presented statistics from tests they had performed earlier in the year:
"Aviation receivers operating as far as 7.5 miles from LightSquared transmitters completely lost GPS and were degraded out to distances of more than 16.5 miles," Shelton said. "High precision GPS receivers such as those used for surveying and geological study requiring precise measurements were adversely affected out to 213 miles and totally lost GPS out to 4.8 miles."

LightSquared has continued to defend their position that this will not be an issue and continues to promise working with everyone on the issue. However, manufacturers of precision GPS such as Topcon do not agree and have stated positions concerning the potential interference implications of this wireless network.

With LightSquared’s anticipated commercial launch planned for later this year in at least four cities, and the controversy surrounding the potential interference, AE firms and other precision GPS users need to remain vigilant and engaged with this issue. Koontz-Bryant will continue to monitor this situation. We will post articles and other relevant information for precision GPS users on our newsletters and social media sites. We would love to hear your thoughts; please email us or post your views on this important topic to our Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn sites.