LightSquared slams leak on GPS tests, expects to win

The carrier says someone inside the government leaked interference test data to hurt its bid for a network

LightSquared believes a government official selectively leaked results from tests of its proposed mobile broadband network to set public opinion against the company, and it is seeking a federal investigation of the apparent leak.

But executives of the fledgling carrier, which plans to build a national LTE (Long Term Evolution) network in spectrum near GPS frequencies, said they are still confident of getting government approval in time to launch the network next year.

"The tide is on our side completely in terms of getting through this process," LightSquared General Counsel Curtis Lu said on a conference call with reporters on Monday.

The company believes the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will be able to make a decision in the first quarter of next year and will rule in LightSquared's favor, said Martin Harriman, executive vice president of ecosystem development and satellite business. LightSquared has said it could launch the network within nine months of receiving government approval.

However, the company faces several hurdles on the way to that launch, including one more set of tests in January and a variety of political challenges.

LightSquared's plan for a network of 40,000 LTE base stations, on which it would sell mobile data service wholesale to other carriers, has been plagued by controversy over possible interference with GPS receivers. Last month, the National Coordination Office for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) oversaw the second set of tests to determine the danger of interference.

On Monday, LightSquared slammed a Friday report by Bloomberg News, which said the tests had shown that the LTE network would interfere with 75 percent of GPS devices tested. The article was based on selective data, excluded interpretation that hasn't been finished yet, and reflected power levels 32 times higher than LightSquared actually plans to use, company officials said.

"It is apparent that this leak was intended to damage LightSquared's reputation, spread false information in the marketplace, and prejudice public opinion against LightSquared" before a full analysis of the rest results is presented to the FCC and other key agencies, LightSquared CEO Sanjiv Ahuja said in a letter to the co-chairs of the National Executive Committee for Space-based PNT. He asked for a public statement to clarify the information and an investigation into the circumstances of the leak.

"This came from someone inside the government process, and it's an outrage, and LightSquared is extremely disappointed," Harriman said on the conference call.

The PNT executive committee is scheduled to review the results of the tests at a meeting on Wednesday and will report its conclusions to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which ordered the testing. NTIA, in turn, will pass on its findings to the FCC, LightSquared's Harriman said.

LightSquared contends that its analysis shows only 14 of the 92 GPS receivers tested were affected by the LTE network based on the standard that the government used. Even that effect didn't necessarily degrade the performance of the receivers, LightSquared said. Harriman said he is confident that if the PNT committee will take into consideration whether GPS performance was actually affected.

The devices affected most seem to have been less expensive consumer navigation devices, Harriman said. No cell phones with GPS in the test were affected, he said.

In interpreting the results of the tests, LightSquared wants the government to factor in a lower power level that the company has already disclosed plans to use, which could show a lower impact. This would be relatively easy to do, he said.

The proposed network faces another round of testing in January, which will study the effects on high-precision GPS receivers such as those used in surveying, defense and automated agriculture. LightSquared has said it is working with several developers of filters that could prevent interference between the LTE network and the high-precision receivers.

Also on the conference call, LightSquared said it is working with the staff of Senator Charles Grassley, Republican of Iowa, who has requested documents about the company's dealings with the Obama administration. Grassley has vowed to block the confirmations of two FCC nominees if he does not receive documents about LightSquared from the FCC.

The PNT executive committee referred questions about LightSquared's request to the departments of Transportation and Defense, whose deputy secretaries co-chair the committee. Neither had any immediate comment.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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