LightSquared Wireless Network Threatens to Drown Out GPS

A new wireless broadband network is worrying experts, and for good reason. In January LightSquared got FCC approval to build a powerful wireless network that uses airwaves close to the GPS spectrum, essentially placing at risk, most commercial navigation systems, as well as the new multi-billion FAA program to upgrade the navigation systems used by the airline industry and air traffic control.

One of the biggest risks is to the GPS navigation systems used by about 40 percent of commercial and private planes. Backup systems that rely on ground-based radio signals are not as accurate and have coverage gaps. Some older private planes have no backup at all.

With GPS interference, a pilot “may go off course and not even realize it,” said Chris Dancy, a spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

LightSquared’s network could also undermine the Federal Aviation Administration’s multi-billion-dollar program to upgrade the nation’s air-traffic control system, which is based on World War II-era radar technology. Source: AP Via Yahoo

“The potential impact of GPS interference is so vast, it’s hard to get your head around,” said Jim Kirkland, vice president and general counsel of Trimble Navigation Ltd., which makes GPS systems. “Think 40,000 GPS dead spots covering millions of square miles in cities and towns throughout the U.S.”

The FAA claims that LightSquared must participate in a program with GPS vendors and that it will not allow the new network to go live until testing has passed, but the impact is expected to cost billions, and it is not clear who will pay.

The power of a GPS timer signal received at the ground is actually less than the background “noise” from electronic systems; only careful amplification makes it detectable. A GPS navigation device has to detect multiple signals, amplify them and distinguish the differences in their timing to determine its own location on the ground. Adding extra noise in a frequency close to the GPS one could increase the challenge. Source: Guardian.uk

LightSquared LightSquared sees the issue differently, and it is an interesting technical issue. The company feels that GPS devices “eavesdrop” into other signals and that a $0.30 per-unit fix to the 40 million standalone GPS devices manufactured each year would provide stronger filters, and remove the problem. Cell phones for example are not expected to be affected and already have better filters than stand-alone GPS units.

GPS manufacturers are up in arms, and do not feel they should have to pay to filter out the LightSquared signal. LightSquared claims that all GPS devices should have been prepared for this move since 2003, and that it isn’t their problem. And you and I? Hopefully, our planes land correctly and we don’t have to buy a new GPS unit.

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