The LightSquared Saga

Tanner Sheahan
CPS Tangent

The saga continues. There is a still a battle going on between the desire (and need really) to bring high speed wireless broadband to rural America and the definite need to protect GPS systems from interference. There's at least two sides to every story but I've posted about the basics before; LightSquared ambitiously proposed to roll out a nationwide high speed, 4G mobile broadband network aimed specifically at rural America but they were not able to fit into a spectrum crowded by GPS receivers. GPS is essential don't get me wrong. There's been a lot of stone throwing by both sides. I'll try to give a quick rundown.
The way I understand it is this; many existing GPS receivers in use today (mostly older ones) are "sloppy" in that they receive signals from a wider spectrum of frequencies than is necessary for global positioning. This hasn't been a problem until LightSquared proposed building a network of ground-based 4G-LTE towers that operate near the GPS frequencies, not necessarily overlapping them. If you have an existing GPS receiver that will inadvertently receive the frequency range LightSquared sought to operate in, you have interference. So who is at fault? Who is responsible for retrofitting older GPS's? Should GPS manufacturers foot the bill to tighten the reception on their devices so that we can "clean up" the broadband spectrum? Should LightSquared, or any other company with a similar goal, be forced to pay for improvements to an existing system in order to make room for itself in the marketplace? That has been the fight and it isn't over yet.

The FCC recently ruled in favor of the GPS industry. The ruling shut down LightSquared's current attempt to move forward in building their network until there is sufficient time for the two industries to figure out what to do about the interference. This is a good thing for maintaining GPS functionality.

Farming has come a long way in recent years and mobile technology has too. Right now the two seem to be at odds. There's an explicit need for uninterrupted GPS in agriculture and an equal and growing need for mobile connectivity in rural America. A reconciliation is essential as "farmer's sons and daughters" take over farming operations and technology continues to become a larger part of how we do business out here.