A Summertime Take on LightSquared

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A pilot friend asked me the other day for an update on the LightSquared vs. GPS saga, and in a nutshell, my summary was, "It's kind of a mess, but I wouldn't worry about it." I could be proven wrong -- predicting the future is always a risky business -- but I've seen lots of precedent for this kind of conflict, and what I've seen suggests that this is the kind of game that LightSquared can't win. The problem for LightSquared is that there are too many constituencies who use GPS, who rely on GPS, who love GPS, and who won't stand for it to be threatened. This includes not only business interests, but consumers and the government. And not just aviation users, but all kinds of terrestrial apps like navigation, survey, communications networks, and more. The only people on LightSquared's side that I can see, other than LightSquared, are the big companies like Best Buy and some wireless services that are hoping to use their network. That's important to those companies, but that's about it. Consumers crave broadband access, no question, but they are not really interested or invested in where the bandwidth comes from, so there is not a lot of weight on that side of the equation. A similar conflict recently played out here in the Northeast, when a gas company breezed into town and tried to push a plan to develop a liquefied-natural-gas terminal in the middle of a picturesque bay. I never thought they would win, because everyone was aligned against them, from the environmentalists, to boaters, to fishermen, the business community and local governments. If any of those had joined the developers' side, citing job growth or economic boon or whatever, things might have been dicier. Still, the developers dragged on the fight for years. They have a lot to gain if they win, and keeping up the fight is not that costly by comparison. But in my experience, when things are this lopsided, those proposals eventually lose out. After eight years or so of fruitless wrangling, the LNG folks packed it in. So, my expectation is that the LightSquared saga will play out in a similar way. The developers will keep up the fight, since they have nothing much to lose by trying, and holding them at bay will keep the staffs busy at the aviation-advocacy groups for quite a while yet. But would I worry about GPS getting messed with, in any substantial way? Not on a fine summer day, I wouldn't. But you never know.

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Comments (5)

I agree. It's getting way too much press. This will never happen as it's currently configured.

Posted by: Larry Maynard | July 7, 2011 6:28 AM    Report this comment

GPS is easily "jammed" by a myriad of things since it's signal strength is so low. Reason enough to practice real piloting skills when all you have is a compass and a distant VOR with bad radials. This is just the beginning of higher powered signals conflicting with that part of the radio spectrum.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | July 7, 2011 7:28 AM    Report this comment

A similar conflict is happening on Cape Cod between the proponents of wind power and those that believe their property values would be effected by distant views of wind turbines. It's been going back and forth for a few years, and the money and influence on the opposition's side should have indicated eventual defeat of placing the turbines in Vineyard Sound. However, the project continues to get the permits required and looks like it's now unstoppable.

I can imagine (I wasn't there) a similar discussion when automobiles started taking over the limited supply of roads from bicycles. "Cars will ruin the roads. We'll all be killed by crashes" etc. We can now look back and see how ridiculous these arguments were as well as debate whether we're better off now with automobiles vs. bikes, but progress happens and we adapt.

Of course, Henry Ford didn't suggest making bicycles hardened against automobiles...

Posted by: Jerry Plante | July 7, 2011 7:45 AM    Report this comment

Tell all your friends, not just the pilots, that their GPS would be hurt by this now. Have them write their congress critters to stop it. You get a thousand or so in each (of 435) district, and watch how fast this is knocked into oblivion.

Posted by: Jesse Derks | July 7, 2011 8:14 AM    Report this comment

When Analog TV was canceled and taken over by digital broadcast one of the points of this was to narrow the TV spectrum and allow the upper bandwidth to be used for other purposes. It only makes sense to use this frequency opened by the TV move for Broadband. There will be no interference issues, the frequency is high enough for the speed needed but low enough to actually penetrate solid material. When you start getting int to the 5GHZ area the signal is blocked more by buildings and trees, this is why traditionally high freq is used for sats as its easier to maintain line of site.

The current administration wants cheep bandwidth for all so don't count lightsquared out just yet. Of course the FCC should of never opened up the range to ground based omnidirectional transmission, but that is a whole other issue.

Posted by: Joseph Chambers | July 7, 2011 11:01 AM    Report this comment

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