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]

Product Review

Airselfie 2 may as well be a GoPro stapled to a drunk hummingbird

On paper, the Airselfie 2 is marketed as flying photographer that fits in your pocket and snaps selfies from the sky. Unfortunately it’s more like a HandiCam controlled by a swarm of intoxicated bumblebees
Emerging Tech

Rocket Lab steps into spotlight with its first commercial rocket launch

Rocket Lab has deployed multiple small satellites into orbit in its first notable commercial launch. Its New Zealand-born boss said the success means "rapid and reliable access to space is now a reality for small satellites."

Get your Sagan on with 60 awe-inspiring photos of the final frontier

Few things instill a sense of wonder quite like the final frontier. The best space photos show off the beauty of Earth, our solar system, and the far corners of the universe. Here are our current favorites.

Here's a look at what's inside Fossil's Pop-up Shop in New York

Fossil has released its first-ever smartwatch featuring Qualcomm's Snapdragon Wear 3100. The Fossil Sport comes packed with a heart rate monitor, built-in GPS, NFC, and Google's latest version of Wear OS. Here's everything you need to know.
Home Theater

How to install an HD antenna for free TV

Today's TV antennas will get you loads of free over-the-air broadcast TV, but setting them up can be a challenge. We walk you through how to install a TV antenna, and provide tips on picking the best antenna for your home.

Cyber Monday 2018: When it takes place and where to find the best deals

Cyber Monday is still a ways off, but it's never too early to start planning ahead. With so many different deals to choose from during one of the biggest shopping holidays of the year, going in with a little know-how makes all the…
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: 1-handed drone control, a pot that stirs itself

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

‘Bionic mushroom’ can generate electricity without using fossil fuels

Researchers have come up with a way to produce electricity without fossil fuels using mushrooms covered with bacteria. The mushroom provides a safe environment for special cyanobacteria that generate electricity when light is shone on them.
Emerging Tech

Curiosity rover active and drilling again after computer issue

The Curiosity rover has succeeded in drilling a hole into the tough bedrock that previously defeated it, allowing imaging and collection of samples. The rover had been incapacitated for a few weeks due to problems with its computer.
Emerging Tech

Astronomers discover two rogue planets that do not orbit a star

Astronomers have identified two rogue planets in our galaxy which do not orbit around a star. Unlike the vast majority of discovered planets, these rogue planets drift through space alone with no sun to shine on them.
Emerging Tech

Pairs of supermassive black holes spotted in colliding galaxies

Astronomers have discovered several pairs of supermassive black holes in galaxies that are colliding with each other. These black holes will spiral closer and closer together and eventually merge into one supermassive black hole.
Emerging Tech

Quantum-based accelerometer can locate objects without GPS

Researchers have created a quantum "compass" that allows navigation without satellites. The instrument, technically called a standalone quantum accelerometer, is small enough to be transportable and has a very high level of accuracy.
Emerging Tech

Ancient continent discovered beneath the ice of Antarctica

Antarctica could be hiding the remains of a long-lost continent. Scientists created a 3D map of the crust beneath the Antarctic ice sheet which shows a similarity to the crust in Australia and India, suggesting they used to be joined.
Emerging Tech

Alibaba’s Singles’ Day sale smashes online shopping records

The annual online shopping frenzy that is Singles' Day this year raked in $30.8 billion, up from $25 billion last time around. The Alibaba-organized event generates more in sales than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.