Tuesday, October 4, 2011

How Did LightSquared Get This Far Despite Bad Test Results?

I've been doing some of that exhaustive Interwebs research into LightSquared and the results are, well, I'll let you decide. I already made up my mind.

The original idea for LS is a good one, namely to provide broadband service without cables. As many in the wireless world will attest, it's far easier and cheaper to construct a cellular tower than to run cables to individual homes. But, in execution, the radio frequency that LS will use to bypass those cables gets perilously close to the band that our Global Positioning System uses, interfering in what has been called a "quiet neighborhood." This interference has some pretty nasty side effects.

LightSquared's plan would have the necessary towers located on the ground, and testing proved that these towers would prevent GPS signals from reaching users. While that might sound like a minor inconvenience, I doubt if you would think it was very minor if you called 911 in the middle of a heart attack and the first responders suddenly lost their ability to find you. Or if the airplane you were flying in was on approach to the runway and discovered it didn't know where it was.

And this administration thinks that won't be a problem.

In fact, the Federal Communications Commission issued a special waiver for just for LS so it could operate even after it was pretty much proven that their towers would interfere with ground reception of the GPS signal.

This is beyond incompetence and enters the realm I consider to be dangerous.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted this link to an FAA paper (thanks to a fellow Moron over at Ace's Place) that outlines the negative effect of LightSquared's interference with ground reception. It wasn't the only test.

Here's an overview of their plan from Computerworld.com.

The LightSquared interference debate is among the most heated in recent years in the U.S., pitting the critical and widely used GPS service against a new mobile data entrant with a new technology and business model.
Here's what Congress was told.

LightSquared’s intended deployment of their high-power terrestrial broadband system should not be allowed to commence commercial operations until the identified problems are resolved,” said Anthony Russo, director of the federal National Coordination Office for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing.
The FCC was informed.

The document describing the testing states that the Lightsquared initiative “will have a severe impact on the GPS band” and “will create a disastrous interference problem for GPS receiver operation to the point where GPS receivers will cease to operate (complete loss of fix) when in the vicinity of these transmitters.”
The Aircraft Owners and Pilot's Association had this to say...
Subsequent testing confirmed concerns of aviation and other GPS users that low-powered GPS signals are overwhelmed by the strong signals from LightSquared’s ground transmitters.
Feel safe yet? Feel like the federal government is acting in your best interests and that of the public?

Michelle Malkin digs a bit deeper.

Despite industry-wide protests, the firm somehow received fast-track approval for a special FCC waiver that grants LightSquared the right to use wireless spectrum to build out a national 4G wireless network on the cheap. Ken Boehm, of the conservative watchdog National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC) in Washington, D.C., summed up the deal earlier this year: “LightSquared will get the spectrum for a song, while its competitors (e.g., AT&T and Verizon) have to spend billions.”

The current “fix” LightSquared proposes to address the interference problems is a costly, conceptual pipe dream that could require massive retrofitting of millions of handheld GPS devices. GPS expert Eric Gakstatter scoffs: “I’ve been pretty open-minded about LightSquared proposing a solution, but this really insults our intelligence. (A)s we’ve seen previously with LightSquared, it’s not about finding a practical solution for the GPS user community; it’s all about selling an idea to the FCC. The problem is that the FCC doesn’t have to live with LightSquared’s half-baked ‘solution’; we do.”
So, how did this happen? President Obama was an early investor.

And you'll never guess in a million years who else is involved in this danger to the public safety. None other than your fiend and mine, the anti-Christ, George Soros.

As Republican lawmakers begin to dig into the White House's cozy relationship with a startup wireless company and the wealthy Democratic donor who owns it, a new character has appeared on the story's edges: liberal superdonor, conservative bete noire and controversial investor George Soros.

Soros reportedly invested in the telecom company LightSquared through a hedge fund, and many of the nonprofits he finances have backed LightSquared in regulatory and policy disputes.
I propose one more test for LightSquared and it's a very simple one: how long will it take for everyone responsible for this to rot in a jail cell?


Anonymous said...

Good work. BTW, I always enjoy your comments at Ace, but this is really informative. Did you know there is also a Van Jones connection?


Anonymous said...

LightSquared shuts down GPS receivers because the powerful signal (15,750 watts, or, maybe ½ that) just right near GPS receivers (up to many miles away) saturates the antenna amplifier in the GPS receiver trying to receive about 300 watts from about 11,000 miles away. No filter on LightSquared transmitters can prevent that. Need a filter on the GPS receiver after the patch before the gain stage to ground out the LightSquared off band signal. Here is ours: http://www.imcsd.com $1200 and the size of a brick and NOT a complete solution. Sanjiv Ahuja has said he has one for 30 cents. We are waiting to see one. Javad says they have a better GPS. We are waiting to see one. Either way, you all get to buy a new GPS.

Another way is to alter the LightSquared protocol, to contain "holes" that GPS can listen through. Doug.Smith@lightsquared.com who is Chief Network Officer for LightSquared says "…I do not intend to follow up with you regarding your proposal" and "Please understand we have received hundreds of offers to solve our issue and simply do not have time to engage everyone." That option does not have you all buying a new GPS.

CJ said...

I mostly support President Obama and technical innovations like nationwide broadband, even if some gov't monies are required. It reminds me of early rural electrification. I am very skeptical of claims this is going forward because of Democratic political connections.

As an engineer I have serious questions about the terrestrial component of LightSquared's system. My main question is why do they need so much power to make it work? You can cover a decent area line-of-sight with under 1W effective radiated power. Why so much power?

The link above points to a technical post I wrote. The GPS mfrs gave me hard info, while the LightSquared PR firm said they wanted to help but provided no info.

Anonymous said...

The band in question is a space to ground link period. If the FCC thinks they can extend a waver to open the band they need to think again. For a small political payola to give away something of such value. All parties should be thrown in jail. If we ignore the destruction of the entire GPS infrastructure, not saying we should, the new band should be open for bids.