Deere Says Falcone’s Service to Cause ‘Massive Interference’

Philip Falcone’s proposed LightSquared wireless service would “create massive interference” with precise agricultural gear guided by global positioning systems, Deere & Co. told federal regulators.

Tests conducted in New Mexico show the performance of Deere’s GPS receivers deteriorated within 22 miles of a LightSquared base station, Deere said in a filing yesterday with the Federal Communications Commission.

“There are major economic consequences,” said Deere, the world’s largest maker of farm equipment. “Deere customers in agriculture, construction, and other applications will lose high accuracy navigation in and near areas served by LightSquared.”

The FCC is to review concerns that LightSquared, which is backed by Falcone’s Harbinger Capital Partners hedge fund, may interfere with GPS service. LightSquared proposes serving 260 million mobile devices over a network of 40,000 terrestrial towers, using airwaves once reserved primarily for satellite signals.

Makers and users of global-positioning devices, which depend on low-powered transmissions from satellites, say the LightSquared service may overwhelm GPS signals used by mobile phones, aircraft, tractors and military gear. A federal advisory committee has concluded the service may snarl aviation navigation unless it is modified to avoid interference.

The FCC awaits a June 15 report from a working group studying interference issues before deciding whether to let LightSquared move ahead. The group includes GPS users, LightSquared executives and federal officials.

‘Severe Interference’

Deere told the FCC that its tests, conducted separately from the working group, demonstrated “severe interference to Deere’s high-precision” GPS receivers.

“There is currently no practicable technical solution” to “avoid or substantially mitigate interference” to existing precision GPS systems, Deere said in its filing. It said it may be possible to mitigate interference in future receivers.

Jeff Carlisle, executive vice president of regulatory affairs for Reston, Virginia-based LightSquared, declined to comment on Deere’s assertions.

LightSquared is “open to the full range of possible solutions,” Carlisle said during a conference call today. “Our network and GPS can co-exist. And that’s exactly what we want.”

“A robust GPS system is a vital national resource that LightSquared is not going to jeopardize,” Carlisle said.

‘Way to Mitigation’

GPS receivers capture frequencies that LightSquared uses, Carlisle said.

“How is the interference arising, and does it point the way to mitigation, and that’s the conversation that we’ve got to have over coming weeks,” Carlisle said.

LightSquared Chief Executive Officer Sanjiv Ahuja separately wrote today that the GPS industry made receivers that capture his service’s signals and is conducting “a campaign to block further development of this new network.”

“Unless a cooperative path on development can be maintained with the government playing the role of neutral arbiter we risk losing out on this vital technological advancement,” Ahuja wrote in a blog on the website of The Hill, a Washington-based newspaper that concentrates on congressional coverage. “We simply cannot afford to stifle innovation in the name of protecting the status quo.”

LightSquared will bring “much-needed” high-speed wireless Internet service to consumers, businesses, health-care facilities and tribal communities, Ahuja said.

100 Million People

Neil Grace, an FCC spokesman, declined to comment.

Ken Golden, a spokesman for Moline, Illinois-based Deere, said in an e-mail the FCC filing speaks for itself.

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, Carlisle said.

“I don’t think there’s any plan to change the launch as a result of these test results,” Carlisle said.

LightSquared is considering a deal with AT&T Inc. to buy network capacity from the carrier, two people with knowledge of the talks said.

In a May 19 letter to the FCC, 33 U.S. senators asked the agency to rescind the partial approval it granted in January and require LightSquared to demonstrate that its service won’t interfere with GPS.

In an April 27 letter, Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said the FCC had approved LightSquared’s application after news emerged that the Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating a $113 million loan from Harbinger Capital to its founder Falcone.

(Adds comment from LightSquared CEO in 14th paragraph.)
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