LightSquared’s problems highlight RF spectrum limits.

Navstar 2F GPS satellite
Navstar-2F satellite of the Global Positioning System (GPS)
photo: USAF
Big money wants to deliver wireless broadband everywhere. Doing so may deliver big problems everywhere.

About a year ago, a combined satellite and terrestrial cell-tower broadband network named LightSquared announced its intentions. It looked like LightSquared had its FCC (Federal Communications Commission) ducks in a row so that it could begin building immediately.

Now, US armed forces, who created, maintain, and depend upon the Global Positioning System (GPS) think that LightSquared’s plans may interfere with GPS signals. In June, a report demonstrated that GPS signals will indeed be interfered with everywhere by LightSquared’s cell towers (which could number 40,000).

photo: Darrenm540

The frequencies in question are in the L-band (1 to 2 GHz). I remember when this band was almost empty. Now it’s a crowded superhighway for many satellite signals, GSM cellphones, GPS signals, radar signals, etc. (Link to graphic image of America’s ridiculously crowded radio frequency resource.)

GPS signals are vulnerable
According to L-band authority Richard Abrahams, “GPS signals are generally very weak and need to be well-protected.”

So far, it looks like the Pentagon will oppose LightSquared’s ambitious plans, as will most players in the GPS equipment marketplace. But the battle is heating up and who will win is unclear. Big dollars are at stake, and that will draw politicians.

I’d like to see LightSquared’s plans defeated. Allow Verizon, Sprint, et al to roll out their 4G wireless networks as they’re doing and don’t jeopardize the GPS system.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

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