Will LightSquared’s LTE network block GPS?

LightSquared logo

Lightsquared is getting ready to roll out 4G LTE mobile broadband service linked with satellite coverage over sizable portions of the United States. Although LightSquared doesn’t plan to sell service directly to consumers, it will offer wholesale mobile broadband services to enterprises and businesses—the company has already inked a deal with Best Buy, and may be in talks with Sprint. However, there’s now growing concern that LightSquared’s system might interfere with GPS satellite receptions, which could have profound implications not just for in-vehicle systems but for everything from aircraft to emergency responders. And some are calling for LightSquared to retool its network to shift its broadcast away from GPS frequencies.

Standard GPS devices operate by locking onto comparatively weak signals from GPS satellites in orbit around the earth, then calculating the unit’s position on the planet. However, some federal agencies—including the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the U.S. Air Force Space Command, and the Department of Homeland Security have raised concerns that satellite-to-terrestrial component of LightSquared’s network could interfere with GPS reception and other technologies used by federal agencies. LightSquared and the FCC insist there’s no risk of the technology interfering with GPS, and the FCC granted LightSquared a waiver to broadcast in L-Band frequencies typically reserved for space systems and RNSS (Radio Navigation Satellite Services).

Through partnerships with other L-Band Mobile Satellite Service (MSS) providers, LightSquared now has access to a nearly-contiguous range of 20 MHZ in the L-band frequencies. As LightSquared’s network service plans have expanded, the company may be operating as many as 40,000 base stations that transmit on the satellite-to-earth portion of the L-Band range closest to the GPS spectrum—and they will do so with high-power signals that could, in theory, completely overwhelm the low-power signals from GPS satellites. GPS receivers have never been designed with filtering to compensate for signal loss, and most don’t have active antennas and preamplifiers to boost the strength of received signals.

LightSquared has worked with the NTIA and the GPS industry to ensure its technology will not interfere with GPS, and tests with GPS devices and GPS-enabled phones conducted in 2009 showed almost no interference from LightSquared technology; however, GPS maker Garmin claimed almost the opposite, that LightSquared’s service could render GPS’s inoperable. LightSquared has agreed to operate within tight technical requirements and will only offer commercial service if the FCC is satisfied the company’s technology will not interfere with GPS and other services. The FCC has been banking on the forthcoming availability of services like LightSquared to increase competition in the mobile broadband market—and hopefully bring broadband service to areas of the United States poorly served by traditional ISPs and broadband operators.

LightSquared already has systems in space: the company’s SkyTerra 1 satellite was launched from Kazakhstan in November of 2010, and is one of the largest commercial satellites ever put into orbit.

LightSquared SkyTerra 1

[Image of SkyTerra 1 courtesy of Boeing]

Emerging Tech

NASA wants your help developing autonomous robots to explore other worlds

NASA is asking for the public's help to create the robots which could one day explore the moon, Mars, and beyond. It has launched the second phase of its Space Robotics Challenge to develop autonomous functionalities of the robots.

Domino’s swerves around traffic by expanding its ebike pizza delivery service

Your Domino’s pizza could now be delivered to you via ebike. Through a partnership with Rad Power Bikes, Domino’s is hoping to solve the problems of traffic congestion and the difficulty of finding parking for those delivering pizza in…
Emerging Tech

Europe’s free land could house enough wind turbines to power the world

Think wind turbines aren't a realistic means of powering the world? An international team of researchers have worked out that there is enough available land in Europe to do the job.
Emerging Tech

DARPA’s next robotics competition is an obstacle course in an abandoned mine

Kicking off this week, the DARPA Subterranean Challenge will put 11 robotics teams through their paces in a simulated disaster scenario in a defunct mine system in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Emerging Tech

Google’s soccer-playing A.I. hopes to master the world’s most popular sport

Think the player A.I. in FIFA ‘19 was something special? You haven’t seen anything yet! That’s because Google is developing its own soccer-playing artificial intelligence. And, if the company’s history with machine intelligence is…
Emerging Tech

Amazon’s facial recognition updates can detect fear, among other emotions

Amazon’s facial recognition software can detect emotion on people’s faces. The company announced improvements in emotion detection, including: Happy, sad, angry, surprised, disgusted, calm, confused, and fear.
Emerging Tech

Amazing app promises a full fitness checkup from a 30-second selfie

Researchers at the University of Toronto have developed an app that's able to gather vital health information about users with nothing more invasive than a 30-second selfie. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

The U.S. Army is developing A.I. missiles that can choose their own targets

The U.S. military wants to equip itself with a new type of artificial intelligence-guided missile, which will use A.I. smarts to pursue its targets. Prototypes will be shown off in 2021.

UPS partners with TuSimple to test self-driving semi-trucks

UPS has been carrying truckloads of goods in self-driving semi-trucks since May. The vehicles are being tested in Arizona routes between Phoenix and Tucson for better service and efficiency for UPS delivery.
Emerging Tech

Astro the dog-inspired quadruped robot can sit, lie down, and… learn?

Move over Spot! Researchers from Florida Atlantic University have built a new dog robot called Astro. Thanks to deep learning technology, it promises to be able to learn just like a real dog.
Health & Fitness

We spit in a ton of test tubes to find the best and most unique DNA tests

DNA tests aren’t just limited to ancestry. You can test for your risks for certain diseases, the best workouts and diets for your health and fitness, and more.
Emerging Tech

Artificial tree promises to suck up as much air pollution as a small forest

Startup Biomitech has developed an artificial tree that it claims is capable of sucking up as much air pollution as 368 real trees. It could be a game-changer for cities with limited free space.
Emerging Tech

Mars 2020 rover now has a rotating array of drill bits for sampling Martian rock

Most the key components in the Mars 2020 rover are installed and ready to go. The next phase of construction was to install the bit carousel, an important mechanism for the gathering and sorting of samples from the Martian surface.
Emerging Tech

NASA selects landing site candidates for OSIRIS-Rex to sample asteroid Bennu

Last year, the OSIRIS-REx craft arrived at asteroid Bennu, from which it will collect a sample from the asteroid to be brought back to Earth. Now, the NASA team has selected four potential sites to choose from for the sampling mission.