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LightSquared says GPS interference testing was rigged

LightSquared, which plans to build a nationwide wireless broadband network, said that a government agency colluded with the GPS industry to find interference issues between GPS services and its own wireless broadband network.

LightSquared, the company seeking final FCC approval to build a nationwide 4G wireless wholesale network, said that a test showing interference between its service and GPS systems was rigged by manufacturers of GPS receivers and government workers to produce bogus results.

On a conference call Wednesday with reporters, LightSquared executives Jeffrey Carlisle and Geoff Stearn, along with paid consultant Ed Thomas, a former chief engineer at the Federal Communications Commission, said that recent tests conducted by the Air Force Space Command on behalf of the Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Executive Committee (PNT EXCOM) were set up to produce negative results.

"The test parameters were chosen for failure," Thomas said on the call. "They used an arbitrary figure to determine failure, which has no effect on performance. And they were allowed to select their own devices to test, some of which are not even sold commercially. The whole thing looks like a college student conducting an experiment for school who draws the curve in before making the measurements."

The LightSquared executives outlined how GPS industry insiders and government end users manipulated the latest round of tests to generate biased results. Specifically, they pointed to the secrecy surrounding the devices tested and the methods used to test them. Carlisle said that even though the testing was supposed to be done by an independent government agency, the GPS industry was allowed to choose which devices to test. And the testing was done in secrecy, so that others were not aware of the methodology or devices used in the testing.

After repeated requests for more information, LightSquared discovered after the initial phase of testing was completed that many of the devices tested are actually now obsolete and no longer being sold. Other devices were only available in niche markets where filters are often not used.

LightSquared said that the devices that were tested "represent less than 1 percent of the contemporary universe of GPS devices." The company also said that the only mass market device alleged to "fail" during this round of testing performed very well during the earlier Technical Working Group testing, which used best-practice protocols agreed to by LightSquared as well as GPS industry participants.

A sky-is-falling strategy
And finally, LightSquared accuses the agency that conducted the test of selecting an extremely risk-averse definition of failure, set to levels most experts would agree can only be detected in laboratory settings and not a good indicator of interference in real-world situations.

Thomas, who is a paid consultant for LightSquared and a former chief scientist at the FCC, said the GPS industry used similar tactics when it tried to thwart the use of other spectrum close to the GPS bands.

"When I worked at the FCC, the GPS industry did the exact same thing to ultra-wideband," he said. "They misrepresented everything, saying that planes would fall out of the sky. The fundamental difference between then and now is that the government wanted to use ultra-wideband. So they had an interest to get it approved."

LightSquared, which plans to build a wholesale 4G wireless broadband network to cover 260 million consumers, has been facing off with the GPS community since early last year. The company's predecessors have owned the wireless spectrum for the network since 1989. And it was cleared by the FCC for terrestrial use in 2005, according to LightSquared executives. But the company is awaiting a final sign-off from the FCC, which will not grant it permission to offer commercial services if its service is found to interfere with other spectrum users.

GPS device makers along with aviation specialists and others complain that a LightSquared network would interfere with GPS devices, causing aviation equipment and precise measurement tools to fail. The problem appears to be caused from the receivers of these GPS devices use that can "listen" to signals transmitted in spectrum bands adjacent to the GPS bands. Because LightSquared's service operates in these adjacent bands, the GPS industry says it's concerned about interference.

LightSquared has tried to address these concerns and has even demonstrated how filters can be used to ensure there is no interference.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which works with the FCC, ordered the testing that LightSquared said was done improperly.

Now several other government agencies are using these test results to make their own recommendations to the FCC and other government agencies. Last week, the National Executive Committee for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation & Timing said in a letter to the U.S. Commerce Department that based on this testing no further testing is necessary and that the request to use the spectrum licenses should be denied by the FCC.

LightSquared, which is backed by Philip Falcone's hedge fund Harbinger Capital Partners, wants additional testing to be done.

"All we are looking for is a fair process that produces scientific results," Carlisle said during the call. "NTIA has asked for the testing. And we're just asking for them to do it properly."

Without FCC and NTIA approval, LightSquared's network is in big trouble. The company has signed several carrier partners to use its network, such as Leap Wireless and Sprint Nextel. But with its future in regulatory limbo, these partners may soon back out of their agreements.

Sprint previously said it would give LightSquared until the end of January to get the necessary regulatory approval. Carlisle admitted that regulatory approval is not likely to happen before February. But he said the company is talking with Sprint and other partners to keep them up to date on what's happening with the testing.

In spite of all this, Carlisle said he is confident LightSquared can take other steps to make sure the company's investment is protected.

"This spectrum has been licensed to us since 1989," he said. "And we've had authority to build a terrestrial network since 2005. That's not spin. That is black-and-white law. And if we cannot move forward because of the GPS industry is blocking us, we will enforce our legal rights."