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GM’s OnStar Asks for More Testing of Falcone’s LightSquared

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June 14 (Bloomberg) -- General Motors Co. asked U.S. regulators for more testing of Philip Falcone’s LightSquared Inc. wireless network after early trials interfered with vehicle tracking through its OnStar system.

GM wants more testing of ways to mitigate LightSquared’s interference of OnStar’s global-positioning system that can track its 6 million subscribers’ vehicles in the event of crashes and other emergencies, the Detroit-based automaker said today in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission.

Makers and users of GPS devices from Deere & Co. to the Defense Department have said Reston, Virginia-based LightSquared may disrupt GPS signals used by mobile phones, aircraft and military equipment. The service, which proposes serving 260 million wireless devices using airwaves once reserved primarily for satellites, may disrupt marine navigation, and concerns have been raised that it may affect air traffic control, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said last week.

GM’s test data show that “harmful interference” of GPS devices by LightSquared “is no longer speculative, but rather is a serious issue that should be thoroughly investigated and resolved,” Thomas Jeffers, OnStar vice president for public policy, and Nikola Pudar, OnStar vice president for business development, said in the letter to FCC Secretary Marlene Dortch.

“The delivery of accurate and timely vehicle coordinates is the cornerstone of OnStar’s business, particularly in emergency situations and for turn-by-turn navigation,” according to the letter.

Test Results

LightSquared signals disrupted GM’s OnStar and GPS devices used by the Defense Department in 46 tests, a Federal Aviation Administration official told a government advisory board last week. The tests of GPS receivers were conducted in laboratories and outdoors, Deane Bunce told the National Executive Committee for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation & Timing, known as PNT.

OnStar found evidence of LightSquared’s network disrupting the GPS system of a Cadillac SRX sport-utility vehicle during testing in April at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, according to the letter. The results showed degradation of that GPS signal both when the vehicle was stationary and moving.

“We’d love to be part of that testing and validation and we believe there is potential mitigation solutions specifically geared toward that bandwidth that’s being used out there,” Vijay Iyer, an OnStar spokesman, said today in a telephone interview.

GM’s OnStar, which provides subscribers with accident alerts, directions and vehicle diagnostics, brings in more than $1 billion in annual revenue and is profitable, Greg Ross, the unit’s vice president of business extensions, said in January.

‘Considerable Expense’

OnStar said solutions include moving the LightSquared service to airwaves further from those used by GPS. Bunce, who co-chairs an engineering forum that advises PNT, said last week that it may take seven to 15 years and “considerable expense” to change GPS receivers to accommodate LightSquared.

LightSquared, which is backed by Falcone’s Harbinger Capital Partners hedge fund, received a waiver from the FCC on Jan. 26 allowing the company to proceed while a working group studies possible interference. That panel, which includes GPS users, LightSquared executives and federal officials, is scheduled to deliver a final report by tomorrow.

OnStar said LightSquared would cause interference within at least a quarter mile of the 38,000 base stations that are planned for the service. OnStar said it didn’t for the maximum distance from the stations that would cause interference and that a quarter mile was a “conservative measure.”

Crash-Response Delays

“Any degradation of GPS satellite reception could impede OnStar’s ability to acquire and provide accurate location information to first responders,” GM said in the letter. “This could significantly delay the arrival of emergency medical personnel and other first responders to the scene of the crash.”

GM said the ability to provide assistance in emergencies will become more important this summer when it introduces an aftermarket version of the OnStar system that provides services through a replacement rearview mirror.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said last week that two subcommittees will hold a June 23 joint hearing into LightSquared.

“We have to work with the GPS community to make sure that we can live in an optimal way with other users of the spectrum,” Sanjiv Ahuja, chief executive officer of LightSquared, said in a “Bloomberg West” interview on June 10. “GPS is a very critical part of our own network in designing and building it. We’re absolutely confident we’ll build a solution that works with them.”

The LightSquared network is to be ready for commercial service by early 2012 and is to cover 100 million people by the end of next year, Jeff Carlisle, executive vice president of regulatory affairs for LightSquared, said in a June 1 conference call.

To contact the reporters on this story: Craig Trudell in Southfield, Michigan at ctrudell1@bloomberg.net; Todd Shields in Washington at tshields3@bloomberg.net.

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

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