A 4G Snow Job has Begun…courtesy of LightSquared…

OK, cynic that life has made me, it was somewhat amusing,even somewhat surprising, to see an ad in my morning Wichita Eagle newspaper proclaiming the enormous benefits headed toward rural America through the magic of 4G broadband — courtesy of LightSquared.

Now for those who spend their time in more useful pursuits than monitoring the world of aviation, LightSquared’s bit of self promotion may make one wonder what rural broadband service has to do with aviation; those would be the folks still unaware of the threat to every GPS-using device from the backbone of this company’s proposed wondrous benefit to mankind: the 40,000 so-called “supplemental” repeater stations the company needs to augment the initially planned satellite system — yeah, you read that correctly: forty-thousand, each one with a transmitter using a frequency spectrum directly next to that used by GPS…and, friends, those transmitters have already demonstrated that they disrupt the ability of GPS receivers to hear the far, far weaker signals of the GPS satellites orbiting in their own celestial constellation some 22,000 miles in space.

That’s everyone — including the GPS in that neat new 4G phone…how’s that for poetic irony?

The mindless minds at the Federal Communications System added to a series of mistakes and broken procedures in granting LightSquared conditional approval to move forward with its plans — conditional, as in, the company must demonstrate it’s system won’t interfere with GPS users. Meanwhile, the company is trying to maintain momentum and move ahead, irrespective of the test results.

And some formal benchmark tests are about to begin out west, near Boulder City, Nevada; watch for the NOTAMs…if you’re flying in proximity of the tests, the LightSquared source will likely render your wonderful satellite navigator as useful and helpful as that old Loran C taking up space, still, in too many a panel. Be sure and inform the FAA; they want — and need — to hear from anyone who suffers a GPS problem.

LightSquared had already been working its publicity machine, at one point offering the audacious, outrageous, impossible idea that GPS users must adapt with filters…yeah, right. And its lobbying lawmakers and policy makers.

But sales pitches aside, DoD tests have shown the transmitters interfere with GPS; so have tests performed by Garmin; and New Mexico’s first responders saw significant disruptions of their GPS systems this week — even outright failures.

But LightSquared seems less interested in finding an alternative to its plans to screw GPS for everyone and more interested in building an unstoppable wave of support for the benefits it promises rural 4G users with ads in the Wichita Eagle.

GPS users should be aware of the snow…er, sales job going on and take every opportunity to question those benefits against the inability of farmers to use GPS in their work, the loss of GPS utility to crop dusters, to surveyors and, of course, aviators trying to use airports in those rural areas and bring actual, not virtual, visitors and business people.

If the ambitions of a company prevail, the GPS users of America lose.


  1. Greg Marshall says:

    Maybe we’ll finally start seeing multi-mode GPS/GLONASS/Galileo receivers?

    I really hope we don’t see any of these ground based transmitters up here in Canada.

  2. Gee, it’s a good thing GPS isn’t important or anything. And at least with great 4G service in the hinterlands we can all make cell phone calls from the plane to ask, “Where the hell am I?”

  3. [...] from already weighing in. Here’s Dave Higdon’s take on the Uncontrolled Airspace blog. This entry was posted in Avionics, GA. Bookmark the permalink. ← If HAFC had a [...]

  4. Dennis Keller says:

    Keep it up Dave. One correction though: I’m pretty sure GPS satellites are more in the 12,000 mile range (roughly 20,000KM). The WAAS satellites would be closer to 2X,000 miles, as they’re in geosynchronous orbit.

  5. Ian says:

    Why does DOD continue to be completely silent on this issue? Perhaps military GPS are already hardened and immune to spectrum proximity denial of service?

    I guess I don’t mind adapting to the new regime just for these guys, so long as they cover the cost of upgrading all of my GPS enabled devices: phones, iPad, handheld, embedded automobile, portabble automobile, and several GPS embedded receiver ICs I bought for my “pet UAV” project.

    • dave says:

      Actually, Ian, DoD is not being silent, nor is DoT, FAA, DHS (Coast Guard, Border & Protection, Immigration)…but if it seems DoD was slow getting out of the gate, it’s the same story as with the rest: FCC’s lack of full notice and its accelerated decision-making process (w/o steps to gauge public response until *after* granting LightSquared its conditional waiver…rather than setting conditions and making LightSquared *meet* the condition *before* issuing the waiver. As it stands, LightSquared seems to be without an ally — aside from some at the FCC and investors who’d like to be free of this right about now…and any members of Congress it can donat…er, convince to support their peculiar position.