Air Force Wary of GPS Interference From LightSquared's Successor

  • U.S. general says he wants more tests on Ligado Networks plan
  • Company says its new approach won't impinge on GPS signals

The Air Force command that operates U.S. military satellites remains concerned that mobile broadband service proposed by the former LightSquared Inc. will interfere with GPS signals, its top official said.

General John Hyten, head of the Air Force Space Command, voiced his wariness before a House Armed Services panel Tuesday as the company, now called Ligado Networks LLC, tries to revive prospects to become a U.S. mobile provider.

Hyten said he wants to see results from new tests that will begin in April to determine if Ligado has successfully reduced the risk of interference with the Global Positioning System operated by the U.S. military. GPS is used for military and civilian purposes, from targeting airstrikes against Islamic State to providing turn-by-turn navigation on smartphones.

“I have seen no data that supports the use of that frequency spectrum other
than the data I saw in 2011” that first raised concerns, Hyten said. “I don’t think that we should infringe on the GPS spectrum,” Hyten said. “That’s a critical capability, not just for the military security of the nation but for” the entire economy, Hyten said. “We can’t allow that to happen.”

Ligado has said it will limit its use of airwaves nearest those needed by the global-positioning system. To make up for that, Ligado has asked the government to let commercial providers share an airwaves swath used for weather data.

‘Jury’s Still Out’

The new tests by the Air Force and the Transportation Department will be followed by a peer review, Hyten said. “The jury’s still out,” he said in an interview after the hearing. “We’re not going to do anything based on somebody saying something.”

By November, the Air Force should have a better understanding of Ligado’s potential impact, he said.

Ligado, led by former Verizon Communications Inc. chairman Ivan Seidenberg, has offered new airwaves plans it contends will lessen prospects of GPS interference that previously stymied the company. Ashley Durmer, a Ligado spokeswoman, didn’t comment when asked about Hyten’s remarks.

Objections over interference, from officials including Hyten’s predecessor, forced LightSquared into bankruptcy court in 2012. Opponents included airlines, farm-equipment manufacturer Deere & Co., the military and makers of GPS gear.

U.S. officials predicted airline crashes, poor military navigation and other ills from GPS failures as the company’s powerful broadband transmissions overwhelmed weak satellite navigation signals.

Regulators then refused to issue a license to the company, controlled at the time by financier Philip Falcone.

Ligado emerged from more than three years of bankruptcy proceedings in December with a new plan and under new control, with owners including JPMorgan Chase & Co., Centerbridge Capital Partners LP and Fortress Investment Group LLC. Falcone retains a minority stake.

Since emerging from bankruptcy, the company said it settled a lawsuit with Deere and struck agreements with Deere and GPS gear-makers Garmin Ltd. and Trimble Navigation

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