Why You Should Regret LightSquared's Setbacks

from the competition-is-good dept

LightSquared is a new wireless carrier that has been trying to launch a wholesale 4G network across the USA. Funded by private equity firm Harbinger Capital, it sought to re-purpose satellite communication frequencies to build a nationwide cellular-satellite hybrid network, and then re-sell the network capacity to other brands. In January 2011, the FCC, eager to foster new competitors in the mobile space, gave LightSquared the green light to launch using their spectrum with one provision - that their network equipment NOT interfere with GPS signals and devices. Well, over a year has come and gone, and despite incredible effort and wrangling, the independent testing keeps indicating that LightSquared's terrestrial towers are not compatible with GPS device use. As such, the FCC has basically rescinded LightSquared's request to launch service on their 1.5GHz L-Band spectrum.

Note that, while LightSquared DID knock out GPS devices, it was not LightSquared that transmitted on the GPS frequencies, but rather the GPS devices that sloppily "listen" to the adjacent LightSquared frequencies. The GPS chipsets were generally cheaply made with inadequate filtering. That said, who is at fault is irrelevant: it remains LightSquared's problem to solve if they want to launch their network. A long history of spectrum policy states that new entrants must not mess up the existing radio devices.

What we've lost here is the chance to have a truly innovative wireless carrier which would have stimulated competition, energized the vendor community, and provided a white-label network for MVNOs. LightSquared had, in fact, signed up dozens of partners who would offer LTE wireless services as cellular companies, CE makers, and store brands like Best Buy, for example, who could sell connectivity in a bundle with laptops. Maisie Ramsay over at Wireless Week explains how a vast community of over 30 technology vendors have also lost a valuable path to market.

What strikes me, as someone who works with wireless carriers (LightSquared included), is that we may lose one of the scrappiest players out there. And markets thrive when a scrappy player stirs up the pot. Hutchison Whampoa stirred up the UK markets when it launched 3G in 2003, Free is currently doing the same in France. In the USA, we have regional players like Metro PCS, but nothing at the national level. My role at the Telecom Council of Silicon Valley is right where innovators meet with the telcos, and it was gratifying to see the tornado of new ideas, vendors, and possibilities that came about with a new network. Without legacy systems nor legacy thinking, lots of great ideas are free to emerge.

For now, with LightSquared's options dwindling, we may have to have to look elsewhere for new competition and open creativity. The WiFi space is fairly promising, as the spread of hotspots continues to soar, and new versions (802.11ac) promise greater range and throughput. Chipsets are cheap, and billions of WiFi devices have been produced. Republic Wireless exemplifies the possibilities of leveraging WiFi in mobile phones to the limit. Lots of people are hoping that the "white spaces" frequencies in between TV channels will be offered up to a WiFi variant, which will mean low-frequency spectrum that penetrates walls and buildings much better than today's WiFi. I like what the US carriers have done with the (globally) early launch of LTE, but there's no doubt that with increased competition we'd have a more dynamic market.

Filed Under: competition, gps, interference, spectrum, wifi, wireless
Companies: lightsquared

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  1. identicon
    Jeff R, 22 Feb 2012 @ 3:10pm

    The gory details.

    This PDF explains in great detail the physics behind the problems.


    For example, from page 7: "Narrowband GPS receivers only use a small fraction of the GPS spectrum, typically using just 6 percent or 2MHZ of the 32MHz GPS signal, which is broadcast in the Radio Navigation Satellite Services (RNSS) band internationally reserved for the transmission of GPS and satellite navigation signals. These receivers, such as those used in cell phones, do not produce high accuracy (they are typically accurate to only less than 100 feet). Using a fracton of the GPS band provides some additional resistance to interference -- the 94 percent of the RNSS band they do not use provides additional separation fromt he interfering signal in the adjacent band where LightSquared proposes to operate. Thus Narrowband receivers may be able to withstand higher interference levels before malfunctioning, although at the penalty of degraded performance do to use of only a small fraction of the available GPS signals."

    It's perfectly fine for your cellphone or your car to only be accurate to a couple hundred of feet. It is entirely unacceptable for other applications such as aviation navigation...

    Additionally, on page 9 there is an discussion of the three types of interference observed.. Overload, Intermodulation, and Co-Channel. The relative power levels between the proposed LightSquared signals and the received GPS signals is from 42dbm to -132dbm respectively. that's 800 billion times more power and cannot be effectively filtered.

    The anger that goes along with the opposition to LightSquared has to do with the crony capitalism that was involved in getting the provisional waiver to operate as well as the FCC driving a competitor into bankruptcy. Add on top of that trying to discredit the testimony of the
    chief architect of GPS wao was also its original program director in 1972 as having a conflict of interest.

    LightSquared is playing politics with GPS and people who rely on GPS are pissed about it.

    http://hotair.com/archives/2012/02/22/did-the-fcc-try-to-drive-a-lightsquared-competitor-into -bankruptcy/

    http://dailycaller.com/2012/02/22/documents-show-obamas-fcc-used-regulatory-muscle-t o-destroy-lightsquareds-competition/


    http ://www.pcworld.com/article/248224/lightsquared_claims_conflict_of_interest_in_federal_analysis.html

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