LightSquared May Degrade Hurricane Tracking, Agencies Say

Philip Falcone’s LightSquared wireless service needs more testing because it may degrade precision services that track hurricanes, guide farmers and help build flood defenses, U.S. agencies are to tell Congress today.

LightSquared’s signals may disrupt precise gear that reads data from the satellite-based global-positioning system, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Transportation Department and a federal advisory body said in testimony prepared for a hearing by the House science committee.

“We support further testing of LightSquared’s proposal,” Mary Glackin, a deputy under secretary at NOAA, said in the testimony obtained by Bloomberg News before the hearing.

Concerns include LightSquared’s potential effect on a satellite system that increases accuracy of hurricane tracking, Glackin said. Options for mitigating interference would be limited because the GPS satellites are in orbit and cannot be modified, she said.

LightSquared is to say its service and GPS can co-exist, according to testimony by Jeffrey Carlisle, its executive vice president, submitted to the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, which is holding today’s hearing. A House Armed Services subcommittee is to hold a hearing Sept. 15, with witnesses to include Defense Department officials and Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

FCC Approval

LightSquared is seeking FCC approval to build a $14 billion wholesale network of 40,000 base stations using airwaves previously reserved mainly for satellites. Makers and users of GPS devices, which rely on satellite signals, say LightSquared’s network for 260 million users would disrupt navigation by planes, boats, tractors and automobiles.

LightSquared has proposed solutions, including initially using only part of its airwaves far from GPS users, that will resolve interference concerns for more than 99 percent of GPS receivers, Carlisle said in his testimony.

“Further study is needed” on approaches including LightSquared’s proposal to initially limit its transmissions to lessen disruption of GPS receivers, Anthony Russo, director of the National Coordination Office for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing, said in testimony submitted for today’s hearing. Russo’s office coordinates U.S. agencies’ interests in GPS services.

‘Severe Harm’

High-precision receivers may still be vulnerable under the revised proposal, with 31 of 33 failing during a test that featured LightSquared transmissions on airwaves farther from GPS uses, Russo said in his testimony. The company “should not be allowed to commence commercial operations until the identified problems are resolved,” he said.

LightSquared’s signals would cause “severe harm to critical high precision applications” including agriculture, construction, surveying, aviation and science, Deere & Co. (DE), the world’s largest farm equipment maker, told the FCC in an Aug. 22 filing. LightSquared’s proposals for mitigation don’t resolve the problems, Deere said.

LightSquared is backed by Falcone’s Harbinger Capital Partners hedge fund, which has invested about $3 billion in the venture.

The FCC is exploring “technical solutions that will both protect GPS and allow a new service to launch,” Genachowski, the agency’s chairman, said at an Aug. 9 news conference. The agency hasn’t set a deadline for its decision, and is considering whether more testing may be needed, Julius Knapp, chief of the agency’s technology office, told reporters Aug. 9.

Neil Grace, an FCC spokesman, declined to comment.

‘Delay Tactic’

“Everyone had nine months to do all the testing they wanted to do,” since the FCC issued preliminary approval in January, Chris Stern, a Washington-based spokesman for LightSquared, said in an interview. “If they want more testing they should be very specific about what exactly it is they want tested, because testing can always be just another delay tactic.”

Carlisle said 10 of 38 high-precision receivers “were resilient to our operations” during tests using transmissions in LightSquared airwaves farther from GPS service.

LightSquared can keep base stations away from agricultural receivers in remote locations “for several years” and will help fund the development of filters so GPS receivers can disregard LightSquared signals, Carlisle said.

-- Editors: Michael Shepard, Allan Holmes

To contact the reporter on this story: Todd Shields in Washington at tshields3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Allan Holmes at aholmes25@bloomberg.net

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