LightSquared’s “Recommendation” Document: A Review

On June 30, 2011, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)-mandated Technical Working Group filed a 1,000-plus page report analyzing interference from LightSquared’s proposed deployment plans in the Mobile Satellite Service (MSS) band adjacent to the Global Positioning System (GPS).

The report was based on LightSquared’s February 2011, description of its planned three phases for deployment: Phase 0, Phase 1 and Phase 2. All three phases identified by LightSquared for study used a portion of the MSS band directly adjacent to GPS, 1545.2-1555.2 MHz (the “Upper MSS band”). The working group test results showed that use of this portion of the MSS band caused overwhelming interference to every category of the 500 million GPS receivers in use in the United States, from those used by airplanes, police vehicles and ambulances to everyday consumer cell phones and personal navigational devices.

Up to the point of the June 30 report filing, LightSquared had for months repeatedly said that its proposed operations would not interfere with GPS. Faced with the report’s overwhelming evidence of massive interference – and no doubt in order to preempt these highly negative results — LightSquared simultaneously released a 37 page “Recommendation” document (RD) that it developed totally outside of the Technical Working Group established to collaboratively study the problem.

In that document, LightSquared proposed an entirely new deployment scenario, not included in the initial scope of the working group analysis, which would not use the Upper MSS band at all, and a series of mitigation measures – many of which were never disclosed or discussed during the four month working group study process. Further, the document tries to blame the “commercial GPS industry” for any interference caused by its operations, and also claims, without citation to the working group study or any other supporting data, that its proposal will solve interference for 99 percent of GPS receivers.

The utter failure of LightSquared’s initial deployment plans to pass interference tests raises fundamental questions about the representations LightSquared made to the FCC prior to its January 2011 decision that convinced the FCC to grant the waiver and convene the interference study process in the first place, and raises significant questions about the credibility of LightSquared’s various claims and whether they hold up to scrutiny.

The current strong indication is that whatever LightSquared told the FCC prior to January 2011 was highly inaccurate, to a degree that verges on negligence. These questions logically follow from the failure of the original deployment plan: Was LightSquared transparent in its dealings with the FCC? In other words, what did LightSquared know, and when did it know it?

• In all of its documents and public statements, LightSquared claims a long history of familiarity with the technical rules of the MSS band and a wealth of technical expertise on interference issues. LightSquared is clearly the most knowledgeable about its own network technology, and also claims to be intimately familiar with prior proceedings relating to MSS interference and GPS. And it appears to claim that it has been working on these plans for years. Yet, in February 2011 it proposed only deployment scenarios which used the upper MSS bands, which overwhelming technical evidence shows will cause massive interference to every GPS receiver studied.

• This raises a variety of questions: Did LightSquared not know that its proposed upper MSS band operations would cause interference? If it didn’t know, that places its technical competence in severe doubt. Did LightSquared know, or have very strong reason to believe, before January 2011 that massive interference would result? If so, why did it not disclose this to the FCC?

• There certainly was ample available evidence that harmful interference would result. The US GPS Council knew, and presented testing results and analysis demonstrating this interference to the FCC in both December 2010 and January 2011. So did major U.S. government departments and agencies, which communicated serious concerns to the FCC in a formal letter in January 2011. LightSquared’s reaction? It dismissed these findings out of hand.

Since LightSquared was completely wrong in formulating its initial deployment plans and claiming that they would not cause interference, why should the company’s reassuring technical claims about its “new” deployment plan be given credibility? LightSquared’s “recommendation” document makes a host of other inaccurate or misleading statements, and a number of its major misstatements are discussed below. The bottom line is that, just as LightSquared was wrong in 2010 and the first six months of 2011, it is wrong now.

Statement 1: The Recommendation Document mischaracterizes the GPS industry’s position, claiming that the industry is trying to force LightSquared to buy other spectrum or go out of business:

“[T]he commercial GPS device industry now argues that LightSquared should not be permitted to operate its L-band terrestrial network on its authorized frequencies but, rather, should have to find or buy new frequencies. . . .This choice would doom an innovative American start-up company that has devoted more than 10 years of effort and billions of dollars in reliance on explicit regulations and authorizations permitting it to proceed as planned with a vital new wireless network.” RD p. 3

“LightSquared must begin to deploy its network immediately or it may not survive.” RD p. 24

The Facts: The Coalition to Save Our GPS has simply said that until it can be conclusively shown that there will be no interference to critical GPS uses, LightSquared should not be allowed to deploy in the upper or lower MSS band. Unless and until that is demonstrated, LightSquared already has other spectrum and should use it. LightSquared’s website states that:

LightSquared already owns valuable high quality spectrum assets, including 59 MHz of nationwide ubiquitous spectrum in an advantageous frequency position. Viewable at:

The Upper and Lower MSS band together account for 20 MHz of spectrum. This leaves 39 MHz of “high quality spectrum assets,” to which LightSquared asserts it has access, available to be used for initial deployment. Since the RD clearly indicates that only 20 MHz of spectrum is needed for initial deployment, [1] LightSquared already has ample spectrum to support deployment without using any of the MSS Upper or Lower band. In any case, to allow for a clear understanding of the impact of the present proceeding on its plans, LightSquared should provide a full and detailed accounting of its spectrum holdings instead of painting baseless “doom and gloom” scenarios.

Statement 2: The Recommendation Document falsely implies that this is a fight between LightSquared and the “commercial GPS industry,” and that only the “commercial GPS industry” has raised interference objections to LightSquared’s plans:

“[T]he commercial GPS device industry wants the Commission to shut down an unprecedented effort to establish a nationwide wireless broadband network built with private funding.” RD p. 4

The Facts: The Coalition to Save Our GPS was founded initially by leading GPS manufacturers, but it has grown to include includes companies and trade associations cutting across virtually every sector of the US economy. Its members include: the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA), AGCO, Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA), Air Transport Association (ATA), Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA), Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA), American Assoc
iation of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), American Petroleum Institute (API), American Car Rental Association (ACRA), American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (ACSM), American Council of Engineering Companies/Council of Professional Surveyors (ACEC/COPS), American Rental Association (ARA), Associated Equipment Distributors (AED), Associated General Contractors of America to the Coalition, Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), Association of American Geographers (AAG), Association of American Railroads (AAR), Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), ATX Group, Avidyne Corporation, BoatU.S. – The Boat Owners Association of The United States, California Land Surveyors Association, California Space Authority (CSA), Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPA), Case New Holland, Caterpillar, Deere & Company, Delta Air Lines, Edison Electric Institute (EEI), Equipped to Survive Foundation, Inc. (ETSFI), Esri, Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), Farm Equipment Manufacturers Association (FEMA), FedEx, Fire Department of New York (FDNY), Garmin, General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), GROWMARK, Inc., Hemisphere GPS, Inside GNSS, International Air Transport Association (IATA), Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America), Leica Geosystems, MACHINE CONTROL Online, Magellan GPS, Mid-Atlantic Aviation Coalition-New Jersey (MAAC-NJ), National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA), National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), National Cotton Council of America (NCCA), National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), Networkfleet, New World Systems, North American Equipment Dealers Association (NAEDA), OmniSTAR, Orienteering USA, Payment Assurance Technology Association (PATA), PeopleNet, Ltd, Regional Airline Association (RAA), Reinke Mfg. Co. Inc., TomTom, Topcon Positioning Systems, Trimble, UNAVCO, UPS, and the USA Rice Federation.

More importantly, LightSquared ignores the fact that the GPS constellation is a U.S. government-owned asset representing historical investment of over $35 billion of taxpayer money and annual investment of $1.7 billion to maintain the constellation. The U.S. government, including practically every major federal department and agency, is the biggest single user of GPS equipment and services, and has invested many more billions of dollars in GPS-based equipment and systems, such as the NextGen aviation guidance system.

These government agencies lodged strong objections to LightSquared’s deployment plans in multiple letters to the FCC in January and March 2011. Recently, a study was prepared on behalf of the federal government users which concluded that LightSquared’s initial deployment plans (phases 0, 1 and 2) created unacceptable interference to all classes of GPS receivers in use by the federal government, and that use of Lower MSS band only by LightSquared had not been proven to solve these interference issues.

Statement 3: The Recommendation Document suggests that interference is the result of design decisions made by the “commercial GPS industry” that resulted in GPS receivers that wrongfully “listen” to LightSquared’s frequencies.

“GPS devices, such as wideband precision measurement receivers, deliberately use LightSquared’s L-band frequencies. Their receivers employ wideband front-ends in order to increase precision and in order to receive satellite augmentation signals throughout the 1525-1559 MHz L-Band. By failing to build receivers resistant to lawful transmissions in an adjacent band, GPS manufacturers have effectively appropriated LightSquared’s L-band spectrum.” RD p. 18

“[I]t is inescapable that it is [the GPS manufacturers’] disregard for the Commission’s policies regarding the immunity of receivers to transmissions in nearby frequency bands that is the source of the technical problem.” RD p. 2

The Facts: Many high precision GPS are in fact intentionally designed to receive signals in the MSS band, but not because GPS manufacturers intentionally “fail[ed] to build receivers resistant to lawful transmissions” in this band. Rather, many high precision receivers are designed this way to take advantage of services that LightSquared itself provides, as does Inmarsat – so as LightSquared knows well, but elects not to explain, LightSquared itself earns revenue by selling satellite capacity for the very same GPS augmentation services that high precision receivers are designed to receive. LightSquared also fails to disclose that its own contracts with satellite customers reserve the right to transmit signals anywhere in the entire MSS band upon notice, so GPS receivers which use LightSquared MSS services had to be designed to receive signals in the entire MSS band. In other words, the ”design decision” to make high precision GPS receivers that were vulnerable to interference from high power terrestrial interference in the MSS band was imposed by LightSquared itself.

The fact is that LightSquared’s original plans, as well as its new “recommended” plan, create massive interference to customers from which LightSquared has been happily collecting revenue for years. And LightSquared adds insult to injury by blaming GPS manufacturers for designing high precision GPS receivers in a way that allowed their customers to pay money to LightSquared.

The proven potential for interference to high precision GPS receivers that use MSS based augmentation services, interference which LightSquared acknowledges, also raises fundamental questions about LightSquared’s business practices: If it knew since 2001 that it was planning a service that was incompatible with GPS augmentation services, what did it do to disclose this fact to customers? Has it disclosed this fact to customers recently based on its current plans? Based on all reports from the affected users, the answers are “nothing” and “no.”

The suggestion that design decisions by commercial GPS manufacturers created the interference problem through “bad” design decisions is also belied by the fact that many GPS receivers that LightSquared will interfere with are designed according to the demanding specifications of the Department of Defense or in accordance with the exacting standards applicable to national and international aviation navigation imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration, the International Civil Aviation Organization, International Telecommunication Union and other industry standards bodies. Further, integrated L-band MSS-GPS equipment has for many years been built to International Maritime Organization standards for Global Maritime Distress and Safety Systems (GMDSS). Such equipment was shown to suffer devastating interference during government tests at White Sands Missile Range.

Either LightSquared failed to do the most minimal due diligence on GPS receiver standards, or it has conveniently ignored them. Either way, LightSquared’s current opinions on what is “good” GPS design are entirely self-serving and baseless.

Statement 4: The Recommendation Document states that the “commercial GPS industry” knew of LightSquared’s plans and acquiesced in them.

“Since 2003, the commercial GPS device industry has not only known about plans to develop a terrestrial wireless network in L-band spectrum, it actually approved those plans.” RD, pgs. 6-7

The Facts: This claim merely recycles a simplistic view, endlessly repeated in LightSquared sound bites, about the history of the FCC’s “ancillary terrestrial component” rules, and also glosses over the inconvenient fact that LightSquared required a waiver of the FCC’s rules, which was granted in January 2011, to proceed with its plans. Simple repetition does not make the claim any more accurate.

But the claim is lacking even in b
asic logic. If LightSquared knew beginning in 2001 that it was going to build the nationwide network it is now proposing, and was so intimately involved in FCC proceedings defining interference standards for MSS and GPS, how is it that between 2001 and the present, the “commercial GPS industry” built and sold 500 million GPS receivers that did not meet purported FCC standards, and that were incompatible with its carefully conceived plans, without LightSquared ever noticing this “fact”? Hundreds of millions of these same receivers had been sold to the public by the time Harbinger bought LightSquared in 2010. Did Harbinger know when it invested further “billions” in its satellite and network that there were so many non-compliant GPS receivers in the hands of customers and businesses, and elect to move forward anyway, without addressing this proactively with the FCC? And if it didn’t know, why not? As a sophisticated New York hedge fund with billions of dollars of investors capital at its command, it should be expected to do basic due diligence. Or was the massive detrimental effect on GPS users from LightSquared’s initial plans simply “someone else’s problem” that could be safely ignored?

In short, even if LightSquared’s account of history were true, if anyone “slept on their rights” it was LightSquared, and not the “commercial GPS industry.” The GPS industry has done what real innovators do – build great products that tens of millions of people and businesses want to buy and put to an incredible variety of cutting edge uses. LightSquared, on the other hand, has not yet provided broadband services to a single customer.

But the more basic truth is that LightSquared’s version of history is simply groundless. The Coalition to save Our GPS has already debunked this revisionist history in detail. Viewable at:

One final point deserves emphasis. There is simply no escaping the fact that it is and was the FCC’s responsibility to identify and proactively address GPS interference issues to protect the substantial investment the federal government has in GPS. The FCC expressly committed to do this in 2005, in a passage that bears quotation at length:

While we agree with the GPS Industry Council, NTIA, and other government agencies that it is essential to ensure that GPS does not suffer harmful interference, it is also important to ensure that new technologies are not unnecessarily constrained. In this regard, we recognize that the President’s new national policy for space-based positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) directs the Secretary of Commerce to protect the radio frequency spectrum used by GPS and its augmentations through appropriate domestic and international spectrum management regulatory practices… Furthermore, the President’s PNT policy calls for the establishment of an inter-agency Executive Committee, on which the Chairman of the FCC will be invited to participate as a liaison, and a National Space-Based PNT Coordination Office. It is our intention to establish discussions with other agencies, through the PNT Executive Committee and Coordination Office as appropriate, to better understand what protection levels for GPS are warranted. The results of those discussions may lead to future rulemaking proposals in order to ensure that all FCC services provide adequate protection to GPS, and produce a more complete record upon which to establish final GPS protection limits for MSS ATC licensees.[2]

Ironically, this is this same PNT that has objected strenuously to LightSquared’s plans after reviewing the results of government interference tests. It does not appear that the FCC has taken steps to implement this commitment, nor has LightSquared supported the FCC by submitting complete and accurate disclosures of interference potential from its proposed operations at any point during this process. If, for whatever reason, the FCC has failed to fulfill this responsibility to date, LightSquared should not be allowed to make the “commercial GPS industry” the scapegoat.

Statement 5: LightSquared claims that by limiting its operations to the Lower MSS band, it will eliminate interference to more than 99 percent of GPS receivers.

[T]ransmissions in the 10 MHz band at the bottom of LightSquared downlink frequencies 3 — the band farthest away from the GPS frequencies — will not adversely affect the performance of over 99 percent of GPS receivers. Exceptions are mostly limited to those precision measurement devices used largely in agriculture, mining and construction. . . RD p. 2

The Facts: LightSquared has cited absolutely no data from the working group study or elsewhere to support this claim and the 99 percent figure is found nowhere in the Technical Working Group’s final report. The available data show that this claim is blatantly false. As best one can tell from LightSquared’s public statements, the claim appears to be based on the assertion that Lower band operations will not affect mass market GPS devices such as personal navigation devices or cell phones. But this is not at all what the working group data show.

The technical working group report of the General Navigation sub-group, which studied mass market personal navigation devices, stated that “lab testing revealed that many devices suffered from harmful interference from the lower 10 MHz channel; specifically, 20 out of 29 devices experienced harmful interference.” TWG Final Report at pgs. 16, 177. Similarly, data from the cellular sub-group report clearly shows that 6 out of the 39, or 15 percent, of cellphone GPS receivers tested failed the defined interference tests. TWG Final Report Figure 3.2.2.

Simply counting a percentage of affected devices also ignores the true costs and benefits of interference from LightSquared’s new plan. While precision receivers account for a relatively small percentage of GPS receivers, they account for enormous economic benefits. A recently released economic study demonstrated that high precision receivers used in construction, agriculture and survey and mapping accounted for $10 billion in private investment in GPS equipment over the last five years, and produced $30 billion in economic benefits per year. It’s highly irresponsible for LightSquared to so lightly dismiss tens of billions of dollars of potential damage to the economy.

Statement 6: LightSquared claims that the use of inexpensive filters would prevent GPS receivers from “listening” to LightSquared’s frequencies and would solve the interference problem.

“Despite the commercial GPS device industry’s best efforts to rewrite the record and obfuscate the nature of the problem, the simple fact remains that GPS receivers do not adequately reject base station transmissions in the adjacent band.’” RD p. 17

“[B]y failing to deploy receivers with sufficient filters, the GPS industry essentially uses LightSquared’s L-Band spectrum even though it is beyond the spectrum allocated to GPS.” RD p.19

The Facts: Aside from integrated MSS-GPS equipment designed to use L-band satellite communications, the idea that GPS receivers are “using” LightSquared’s spectrum is nothing more than a sound bite, with no basis in any established or generally accepted concepts of spectrum usage or radio frequency engineering. To be able to receive faint satellite signals, GPS receivers must be designed to be highly sensitive. GPS receivers incorporate filters that reject transmissions in adjacent bands that are hundreds of millions times more powerful than the signals that are transmitted within the band they are designed to receive.

LightSquared, however, is proposing to transmit signals in the band adjacent to GPS that are billions of times more powerful than GPS satellite signals. In fact, the highest recor
ded power levels at the Las Vegas tests conducted in the study were a staggering 800 billion times the power of GPS signals. There has never been, nor will there ever be, a filter that can block out signals in an immediately adjacent frequency band that are so much more powerful, nor has LightSquared put forward any credible, independent expert opinion or other evidence that this is possible.

The FCC mandated that the technical working group consider possible ways to “mitigate” interference. As the technical working group report confirms – its sound bites about filters notwithstanding – the only device LightSquared produced for testing was an antenna with filters so extreme that they would filter out more than 95 percent of the GPS signals as well, with an extremely severe penalty to receiver performance. Other than that, LightSquared did not produce a single filter for testing, only PowerPoint presentations and conceptual vendor proposals. Even these theoretical filters did not address the insurmountable technical problem presented by extremely high powered signals immediately adjacent to GPS.

If LightSquared’s theoretical filters ever made it off of the drawing board, they would force GPS receivers to retreat into only a tiny portion of the legitimate GPS band and would render useless millions of GPS devices and billions of dollars of investment by government, industry and consumers.

And even real filters are not a solution for the 500 million receivers in use in the United States. The entire population of GPS users would require a minimum of 15 years to prepare for such a change. For example, factory GPS systems installed in automobiles are typically not replaced for the 10-15 years life of the vehicle and the same can be said for aircraft, trucks, ambulances, agricultural and construction machinery to name but a few. The idea of effecting such a transition in a matter of months is absurd.

While the nation needs more wireless broadband services, there are many places in the radio spectrum already identified or allocated to 4G cellular uses, where interference to adjacent space based communications such as GPS would not occur. The satellite component of LightSquared’s network – serving rural and public safety users outside of cellular coverage – is fully compatible with the adjacent uses and is already in use. To allow a new unproven use for fewer users to diminish a long-established, highly productive spectrum use for the majority is not in the public interest and must not be allowed.

[1] Under LightSquared’s new proposal, it will initially deploy using the 10 MHz in the lower MSS band. The need for 20 MHz is derived from the need in wireless networks to have equal amounts of paired uplink and downlink spectrum. The 10 MHz lower band presents 10MHz of downlink spectrum.

[2] Flexibility for Delivery of Communications by Mobile Satellite Service Providers in the 2 GHz Band, the L-Band, and the 1.6/2.4 GHz Bands, Memorandum Opinion and Order and Second Order on Reconsideration, 20 FCC Rcd 4616, ¶ 70 (2005).