Falcone’s LightSquared Prompts European Concerns of Interference

Philip Falcone’s LightSquared wireless venture may disrupt Europe’s planned space-based navigation system and pose a risk to aviation safety, a European Commission official told U.S. regulators.

Analysis by the European Space Agency has found that signals from LightSquared’s network may cause “harmful interference” to the Galileo system, Heinz Zourek, head of the commission’s industry department, said in a letter today to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski.

The commission also is concerned that LightSquared may affect navigation equipment on aircraft that operate in European and U.S. airspace, Zourek wrote in the letter, which was posted on the agency’s website. He urged the FCC to weigh those concerns as it considers final approval for LightSquared, which proposes serving 260 million wireless subscribers over a network of 40,000 base stations.

Zourek’s concerns echo objections to LightSquared raised by makers and users of navigation devices that operate on the U.S. global-positioning system. The GPS industry says that the Reston, Virginia-based company’s service may overwhelm their signals, which come from satellites, and interfere with aircraft, boats, tractors and cars.

LightSquared said on June 30 that it wouldn’t use all the airwaves allocated to it, cutting interference to more than 99 percent of GPS devices. The FCC is taking comments on the revised plan until Aug. 15 and faces no deadline to act.

New LightSquared Plan

The commission’s letter “is focused on LightSquared’s former plan,” Chris Stern, a company spokesman, said in an interview. “LightSquared is very confident that its solution will resolve any issues about interference.”

Neil Grace, an FCC spokesman, had no immediate comment.

LightSquared, backed by Falcone’s Harbinger Capital Partners hedge fund, plans to invest $15 billion to build a wholesale wireless service.

Harbinger has invested $2.2 billion in LightSquared, and the investment represents 62 percent of Harbinger’s main fund, the investment company told investors in May. It said Harbinger owns about 80 percent of LightSquared’s shares.

The GPS industry has urged the FCC to revoke the preliminary approval it granted in January to LightSquared and make the company use different airwaves.

Earlier tests showed LightSquared’s original plan “poses a significant potential for harmful interference” and concerns “remain unresolved,” Larry Strickling, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration wrote in a July 6 letter to the FCC.

More Testing

Strickling, who is President Barack Obama’s principal adviser on telecommunications issues, said he supports a call for more tests made by the National Executive Committee for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing, an advisory panel that includes defense and transportation deputy secretaries and other executive-branch officials.

On June 30 LightSquared filed a technical report with the FCC, and the agency in a public notice said the document showed “potentially significant interference” between LightSquared operations and GPS when using airwaves near GPS, and “some interference issues” when airwaves further away were used.

Deere & Co., the largest farm-equipment maker, and GPS maker Garmin Ltd. said LightSquared’s new plan didn’t allay concerns about disruption to GPS.

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