Interference with GPS Signals Could Be “a Matter of Life and Death”

Nationwide Emergency Response and Policy Maker Group Briefed on Ominous Test Results

San Diego, Calif.  (June 29, 2011) – Addressing the SAFECOM Emergency Response Council, a representative of one of the founding members of the Coalition to Save Our GPS said today that the interference posed to the Global Positioning System (GPS) by LightSquared’s planned deployment of 40,000 ground stations “could literally become a matter of life and death” when it affects communications and location technology used by first responders and other public safety officials.

Referring to a recent report by the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC), Jim Kirkland, vice president and general counsel of Trimble, said that its tests “confirmed that interference to public safety operations will occur” if LightSquared’s plan are allow to proceed.

“It doesn’t get much more serious than when ambulances, police and fire department vehicles miss critically important information or lose precious time in reaching the scene of an accident or crime because of interference with GPS signals,” said Kirkland. “It could literally become a matter of life and death, and the government should take every step possible to avoid that scenario.”

Kirkland quoted the report when it said, “Denial-of-GPS-Service to portable devices represents perhaps the largest concern to the Public Safety market. Officers rely on ‘Man-Down’ signaling for immediate response under life and death situations. In certain circumstances, an officer may be unable to voice their location; GPS tracking is the only backup they may have for rescue or aid.”

He also raised the issue of interference with cellular phones, which the NPSTC noted now exceed 70 percent of all E911 calls made in some locations, a percentage that is expected to increase, and pointed out that the NPSTC reported that, “Interference to GPS services, particularly location reporting, directly impacts the ability of Public Safety services to respond in a timely manner to received calls. We are therefore concerned with the impact of L-band-based LTE signals on cellular E911 services.”

Kirkland also recounted the results of tests on first responder and other public safety vehicles conducted by the National Space-Based PNT Advisory Board, which provides advice to the U.S. government on space-based positioning, navigation and timing matters. Its tests show first responders face formidable interference problems from LightSquared’s planned operations.

The tests showed that a state police cruiser lost GPS reception when within 600 feet of a tower like those LightSquared plans and that the police headquarters communications operation could not locate the cruiser on its tracking system. Worse, even after leaving the vicinity of the LightSquared transmitter, the cruiser was unable to re-establish location-based services.   For ambulances, the tests found that there was no solution for the interference the ambulances experienced  within 1,000 feet of the test tower and that the tests generated false readings such as reporting the ambulance was going 9 m.p.h. when it was in fact stationary. There was a similar problem for fire department vehicles, with no solution for the interference suffered within 1,000 feet of the test tower. The tests caused the fire department system to report the last known location of the fire department vehicle to be in a location that was not near its actual position.

In his remarks, Kirkland was referring to plans by a Virginia-based company, LightSquared, to deploy 40,000 ground stations throughout the country that all tests so far show would cause harmful interference with GPS, a national utility upon which millions of Americans rely each day.

He was addressing the summer meeting of the SAFECOM Emergency Response Council, a meeting hosted the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Emergency Communications (OEC).  The OEC describes the gathering as one in which public safety stakeholders from across the country provide input to the OEC on “timely interoperability-related issues.” The SAFECOM ERC includes individuals from federal, state, local and tribal emergency response and policy maker communities who meet to share best practices and lessons – all with the goal of seeking improvement of emergency response communications interoperability.

About the Coalition
The “Coalition to Save Our GPS” is working to resolve a serious threat to the Global Positioning System. The FCC granted a highly unusual conditional waiver for a proposal to build 40,000 ground stations that could cause widespread interference with GPS signals – endangering a national utility which millions of Americans rely on every day. The conditional waiver was granted to a company called LightSquared.