Thursday, June 21, 2018
Business

FCC halts plans for LightSquared's high-speed wireless network

NEW YORK — Federal officials plan to kill a proposal to build a new national high-speed wireless network after concluding that in some cases it would jam personal-navigation and other Global Positioning System devices.

The Federal Communications Commission sought comments Wednesday on revoking LightSquared's permit after the federal National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an agency that coordinates wireless signals, concluded that there's no way to eliminate the risk of interference with GPS devices.

The FCC had seen LightSquared's proposal as a way to make more airwaves available to feed consumers' appetites for movies, music and games on a variety of mobile devices.

Makers of GPS devices and those who rely on them feared GPS signals would suffer the way a radio station can get drowned out by a stronger broadcast on a nearby channel.

The problem is that high-power signals from as many as 40,000 LightSquared transmitters on the ground could overwhelm sensitive GPS receivers designed to pick up relatively weak signals from space. LightSquared planned to transmit on a frequency adjacent to that used by GPS.

When the FCC gave tentative approval last year to build the network, it said the company wouldn't be allowed to start operations until the government was satisfied that any problems were addressed. LightSquared and the FCC had insisted the new network could coexist with GPS systems.

After government and industry groups conducted tests, the NTIA said Tuesday that it found interference with dozens of personal-navigation devices and aircraft-control systems that rely on GPS.

The agency said that new technology in the future might mitigate the problems, but it would take time and money to replace GPS equipment already used extensively in the United States. The NTIA also said adjustments to LightSquared's network could cost billions of dollars and might not solve all problems.

LightSquared, based in Reston, Va., chastised the FCC for withdrawing approval after the company had already spent nearly $4 billion.

"There can be no more devastating blow to private industry and confidence in the consistency of the FCC's decisionmaking process," said Sanjiv Ahuja, chairman and CEO of LightSquared.

Ahuja said the company still believed in finding a working solution "if all the parties have that same level of commitment."

The FCC said it was accepting public comments on its revocation plans until March 1.

LightSquared had hoped to compete nationally with fast fourth-generation wireless services from AT&T, Verizon Wireless and other traditional wireless companies. It hadn't planned to sell directly to consumers. Rather, it would have provided network access to companies including Leap Wireless, parent of Cricket phone service, and Best Buy, which planned to rebrand the service under its own name.

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