LightSquared makes more concessions to save LTE plans

Will LightSquared CEO Sanjiv Ahuja have any network left to run?

LightSquared is willing to give up even more of its once-ambitious LTE plans, if the Federal Communications Commission would just sign on the dotted line. In a filing with the FCC earlier this week, LightSquared promised to curtail the future transmission power of its towers and turn a whole swath of its L-band satellite spectrum over to government oversight, in exchange for permission to launch its nationwide LTE network next year. If LightSquared gives up any more, it won’t have much of network left to build, but that seems to be exactly the point LightSquared’s critics are making – that there’s no conceivable network LightSquared can build in the L-band without knocking out the country’s commercial GPS systems.

LightSquared wants to build a wholesale 4G network adjacent to the band that GPS satellites use to transmit their location and timing signals to the millions of receivers embedded in minivan dashboards, commercial farm equipment, airplanes and cellphones. The potential interference of LightSquared’s network with those devices has set off a firestorm of protest from GPS device makers and government agencies, forcing LightSquared to make concession after concession in an effort to find some way for the two networks to co-exist. A leaked government report last week set off a new round of criticism, forcing LightSquared to play the concession card once again. In the filing, it’s now proposing to:

  • Curtail its plan to gradually increase its network transmission power over the next five years, which would decrease the chance of an LTE device getting a strong signal, but also decrease the chances the network will overpower any nearby GPS receiver.
  • Turn over control over half of its most useful spectrum to the National Executive Committee for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing — which happens to be the same agency that authored the leaked report LightSquared is so furious about. Basically LightSquared is saying it will keep its network as far away from GPS as it can and won’t even glance at the upper L-band until it gets and explicit OK from the feds. LightSquared’s previous batch of concessions also promised to stay out of the upper L-band, but only temporarily. With this plea, LightSquared is essentially giving up control of one its most valuable assets.

It’s doubtful those concessions will be enough, though, if the government’s final interference study turns out to be half as damning as Bloomberg claims it is. LightSquared has refuted the leaked report, saying the leak was malicious in its intent and that the actual study itself tested network transmission levels that the carrier has long since revised downward. LightSquared believes someone in the government is out to get it and has demanded an investigation of the leak. But the official government statements aren’t saying much different. While the executive committee overseeing GPS didn’t release the full study, it did issue a statement Wednesday that’s far from encouraging to LightSquared:

Preliminary analysis of the test findings found no significant interference with cellular phones. However, the testing did show that LightSquared signals caused harmful interference to the majority of other tested general purpose GPS receivers. Separate analysis by the Federal Aviation Administration also found interference with a flight safety system designed to warn pilots of approaching terrain.

Meanwhile, the LightSquared debacle has become a political hot potato for the FCC, which granted conditional approval of LightSquared’s network plans earlier this year. The FCC still has the final say on whether the would-be operator can move forward with a commercial launch, but U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) wants to know how LightSquared even got this far. Last week he vowed to place holds on two new FCC nominees, Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel and Republican Ajit Pai, unless the commission was more forthcoming about its relationship with LightSquared and principle investor Harbinger Capital Partners.