Philip Falcone’s LightSquared Inc. wireless venture will interfere with agricultural equipment even if it follows its plan to lessen interference with the U.S. global-positioning system, a Deere & Co. (DE) official said.
“The LightSquared proposition would degrade most of our GPS receivers and their capability of helping the farmer in precision agriculture, as far away as 22 miles,” Ken Golden, a spokesman for world’s largest farm-equipment maker Deere, said in a conference call with reporters today.
To reduce interference, LightSquared is to use different airwaves than it had planned, Chief Executive Officer Sanjiv Ahuja said in an interview on June 20. The change would resolve interference concerns for all but a limited number of users such as farm-equipment makers, Ahuja said.
LightSquared, backed by Falcone’s Harbinger Capital Partners hedge fund, proposes serving mobile-Web users over a network of 40,000 base stations, using airwaves previously reserved mainly for satellite services including GPS. Makers and users of GPS devices say LightSquared may overwhelm their faint signals.
The Federal Communications Commission, which granted preliminary approval to LightSquared in January, has ordered the Reston, Virginia-based company to deliver a report on interference by July 1 before granting final clearance.
“There are still solutions that need to be reached for precision GPS receivers,” Martin Harriman, a LightSquared executive vice president, said in an interview today. “We just need to be able to sit down together, work cooperatively, and figure out what the fixes are.”
A U.S. advisory panel has concluded that LightSquared would degrade global-positioning system navigation devices as far away as outer space and recommended that regulators revoke the tentative approval granted to the company.
Tests showed that LightSquared, as originally planned, would disrupt General Motors Co. (GM)’s OnStar navigation service and equipment used by the Defense Department, according to the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing Systems Engineering Forum, which submitted its findings to members of Congress on June 15.
LightSquared’s new plan to operate on airwaves controlled by satellite company Inmarsat Plc (ISAT) “should resolve interference challenges for 99.5 percent of GPS receivers in this country,” said Ahuja.
LightSquared remains on schedule to begin commercial operations by 2012, Ahuja said. The company agreed with regulators last year to offer service to as many as 100 million Americans by the end of next year.
Harbinger told investors on June 17 it had reached a 15- year agreement with Sprint Nextel Corp. (S) to share network equipment and building costs, according to a letter obtained by Bloomberg. LightSquared has also announced a $7 billion deal with Nokia Siemens Networks to build and operate its network, as well as agreements to let Leap Wireless International Inc. (LEAP) and Best Buy Co. use its airwaves.
Falcone’s push to enter the wireless market coincides with efforts by FCC and the Obama administration to free airwaves for use by smartphones and tablet computers to increase U.S. economic competitiveness.
LightSquared may help foster billions of dollars in private investment and the creation of tens of thousands of jobs, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a May 31 letter to Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican.
The FCC won’t let LightSquared begin offering commercial service “until it is clear that potential GPS interference concerns have been resolved,” Genachowski said in his letter to Grassley, who had questioned how the agency had handled the company’s application.
LightSquared’s proposal for reducing interference “really doesn’t solve the lion’s share of the problem,” Jim Kirkland, general counsel of GPS-gear maker Trimble Navigation Ltd. (TRMB), said on today’s call.
Golden, the Deere spokesman, said he had taken Ahuja’s announcement into account.
“We currently do not see a solution to the interference within our use of the GPS,” Golden said. “The technical solutions aren’t there at this time.”
GPS is becoming “an expectation” of farm-equipment buyers, Golden said. “It is something that yearly is growing as rapidly as anything we’ve added to equipment.”
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