All in all, it’s been a pretty bad news week for LightSquared. A report from the snappily named Space-based Positioning Navigation & Timing (PNT), appeared to have put the proverbial nail in its coffin.

The report states, in no uncertain terms that like Lampard and Gerrard in the England midfield, there’s no way that GPS and LightSquared network will ever play well together. So much so in fact that the PNT said that there’s really no bother doing any more testing at all.

Unsurprisingly, LightSquared is pretty hopping mad about this and isn’t quite ready to throw in the towel. The suggestion in a sternly worded press release from the company suggested that the testing was ‘rigged’ – and levelled a barrage of challenges at the PNT report, the highlights of which were:

–          The testing protocol deliberately focused on obsolete and niche market devices that were least able to withstand potential interference.

–          The report selected an extremely conservative definition of failure – one dB of interference that independent experts say can only be detected in a lab and has no impact on GPS positional accuracy or user experience.

–          Why did the government choose a power level 32 times greater than the level at which LightSquared will operate?

–          Why was it allowed for a representative of the GPS lobby allowed to sit on the PNT advisory board? Conflict of interest, surely.

I would characterise this as; “dem fighting talk.” Not surprising really, considering how many billions Falcone, owner of venture capitalist Harbinger has sunk into the project.

The one that does confuse slightly is the pop at the use of ‘obsolete devices’. Can GPS devices become obsolete? Surely a ten-year old Garmin sat-nav will still pick up a satellite and work, making it just as much a problem as a new advice. It’s not like phones, which tend to be replaced every couple of years.

Aside from this though, most of these all seem like valid questions and for one I’m disappointed to see the wave of negativity coming LightSquared’s way. GPS is something that I’m very keen on – in a former role as a gadget reviewer I looked at the first Tomtom device ever released in the UK- but if there’s any way to get LightSquared running without planes falling out of the sky it’s clear every effort should be made to make it happen.

Touchy GPS

The irritation from LightSquared’s perspective of course is that it purchased this spectrum in good faith, and it is, in fact, the GPS industry that is leaking into its licensed spectrum. Annoying.

LightSquared was given a licence for 1525-1559MHz, while GPS operates at 1575MHz. Normally there should be enough of a guard band, but it seems that years of having no spectral neighbours made the GPS industry lazy, producing lazily designed devices that were far too sensitive to surrounding frequencies. There are technical solutions to get round this- but as desperate as LightSquared is to get its network up and running, it’s not willing to fork out the billions of dollars needed to retrofit and entire industry made up of millions of devices.

It never had to worry about this stuff before but with LightSquared in the world – it does. LightSquared has made concessions to the GPS industry by agreeing to only use a lower part of its bandwidth, (1526-1536MHz) and lower its power output from its basestations by 3db. In case you’re wondering, LightSquared was originally granted its spectrum as a satellite only operator, using much lower power. But once it was granted a waiver in January 2011 to create terrestrial only devices, it was suddenly boosting the power of its stations and creating the interference issue.

It’s not really clear though if the latest tests took this into consideration. In fact, there’s no real way of knowing if LightSquared arguments are valid.

If only there were some independent body that could conduct these crucial experiments without any bias or particular agenda. If only. Now that may seem sarcastic- but it isn’t. There’s no one who can seen to do these tests without having their own agenda. Everyone seems to be acting rationally, but only in their own self-interest.

So where now? LightSquared will keep fighting, but it seems reasonable to assume that unless tests independently and transparently run tests conclusively prove that LightSquared doesn’t cause an issue for the vast majority of GPS devices, this potentially transformative network could end up the same way as the AT&T and T-Mobile venture (another deal that most thought would be a dead cert) – and that’s on the scrapheap.

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