LightSquared claims to have solution for GPS interference problems

Wireless start-up LightSquared claimed Wednesday to have found a solution that will prevent its network from interfering with Global Positioning System (GPS) devices, even especially sensitive precision devices.

The company said it worked with Javad, a GPS manufacturer, to develop a system that will adapt precision GPS devices so they can operate in the presence of LightSquared's network.

Martin Harriman, LightSquared's executive vice president of ecosystem development and satellite business, said the fix is affordable and "relatively simple."

The company plans to test a batch of prototypes alongside additional tests required by the Federal Communications Commission.

LightSquared intends to provide wholesale wireless broadband service, but it had to put its plans on hold after tests earlier this year revealed that its signals interfere with GPS devices, including those used by the military.

In response to the problem, LightSquared agreed to operate its land-based cell towers on only the lower 10 MHz of its spectrum. That was no small commitment; the company says the change will cost $100 million.

But even operating on only the lower 10 MHz, the network still causes problems for some precision GPS devices.

Last week, Air Force Gen. William Shelton told a congressional subcommittee that fixing the interference problem with precision GPS devices would cost billions of dollars and take a decade or more.

Harriman said that assertion is "simply not true" and that LightSquared will be able to mass-produce devices that do not interfere with its network in a matter of months.

“This breakthrough is a final step toward LightSquared’s goal of building a nationwide wireless network that will bring lower prices and better service to Americans from coast to coast,” said Sanjiv Ahuja, LightSquared's chief executive.

The GPS industry remained skeptical that LightSquared's proposal would solve the interference problems.

“LightSquared has, as usual, oversimplified and greatly overstated the significance of the claims of a single vendor to have ‘solved’ the interference issue," the Coalition to Save Our GPS said. "There have been many vendor claims that have not proven out in rigorous tests and the demanding tests of marketplace acceptance."

In addition to the GPS problems, LightSquared has also run into political obstacles in recent weeks. 

Republican lawmakers have called for an investigation of the company's ties to the White House after emails revealed the company had communicated with senior administration aides. Reports said the administration also asked Shelton to change his testimony in a secure congressional briefing to make it more supportive of the wireless start-up.