Federal agency recommends killing LightSquared LTE plans

A federal agency may have just sounded the death knell for LightSquared’s plans to build a nationwide LTE network. The National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing Executive Committee, otherwise known as PNT ExComm, has concluded that any LTE network LightSquared would build, no matter how much it scales back its transmission power, would interfere with GPS devices nationwide, IDG news reported.
Ultimately, the Federal Communications Commission has the final say on whether LightSquared can go forward, but with the full weight of the government organization overseeing GPS against the would-be operator, the chances that the FCC will green-light its launch are now slim to none. According to IDG, the nine federal agencies that make up ExComm came to a unanimous decision after it found that LightSquared’s network would cause interference on 75 percent of the general navigation GPS devices tested:

Based upon this testing and analysis, there appear to be no practical solutions or mitigations that would permit the LightSquared broadband service, as proposed, to operate in the next few months or years without significantly interfering with GPS. As a result, no additional testing is warranted at this time.

LightSquared immediately shot back with a letter (PDF) accusing PNT ExComm’s advisory board of extreme bias and even singled out the board’s representative from NASA, Bradford Parkinson, since he also sits on the board of Trimble Navigation, a GPS device maker. In the letter, LightSquared asked that the National Telecommunications and Information Agency — which originally asked ExComm to conduct the study — to take over the testing process:

This is yet another example of the structural bias that exists within [the ExComm advisory board] which is doing harm to LightSquared, its employees, customers and suppliers. As a result of this deeply flawed process, [the board] is prepared to recommend to PNT EXCOMM that it should block a new, competitive, and innovative broadband network that Sprint, Best Buy, Leap Wireless and almost 30 other companies have partnered with for the benefit of consumers and the economy in order to benefit a handful of discontinued, non-consumer, or niche devices, none of which were intended to be used, and will not be used, near LightSquared’s planned base stations.

LightSquared is running out of options, money and time. Even if it were to convince the FCC and NTIA to conduct new tests taking into account its latest concessions to build a lower-power and further-scaled-back network, it would still take months to structure and perform those tests. Meanwhile, LightSquared is hemorrhaging cash and flirting with bankruptcy. Its network construction plans with Sprint (s S) are on hold, and Sprint could call off its network hosting deal entirely at the end of the month, which would force LightSquared to shoulder the enormous cost of building its own network.