Urgent Matters

LightSquared conclusions need to be based on complete data, not leaks (with related video)

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One of the more intriguing headlines during the past week cites a draft of a government summary claiming that the proposed LightSquared terrestrial LTE network caused harmful interference to 75% of GPS units tested — a potentially devastating piece of news for the satellite company that hopes to enter the wholesale LTE market.

LightSquared's terrestrial broadband system has been the source of considerable controversy, with the GPS industry saying the satellite company's LTE system will interfere with the location technology that is present in so many devices used by consumers and enterprises of all shapes and sizes. LightSquared officials have acknowledged that an interference issue exists, although there has been endless fingerpointing about who is responsible for the issue and who should remedy the situation.

However, LightSquared officials have said that only a small fraction of GPS devices would be negatively impacted in a noticeable manner, so the 75% figure cited in the news story was quite a shock to read. It also was a big surprise to LightSquared, which had been told that the test data was supposed to be a closely held secret at the time the news story appeared, according to Martin Harriman, executive vice president for LightSquared.

"This leak was very deliberate and quite malicious, in terms of its timing," he said.

Harriman said the data used in the news story was selective, incomplete and used a "skewed model" of interference impact to reach conclusions that would make LightSquared look bad.

Since then, government officials have said that analysis of the interference testing was not complete at the time of the story. Meanwhile, LightSquared has indicated that it will alter its deployment plans by operating at lower power levels than originally proposed.

"We've modified our power proposal," Harriman said. "Based on the data we've seen and the extensive analysis we've done ourselves, we can live with a slightly lower end power 5 to 6 years from now. And that helps, because it takes out a lot of other receivers that were susceptible at that power setting. We've basically adapted our power proposals to the data that we've seen."

Frankly, I have not seen the test data and am virtually certain that I would not be able to draw any conclusions from it, even if it were at my fingertips right now. Reaching such conclusions is the job of qualified engineers who have analyzed all the data from the tests conducted, not a portion that may have reached the media early.

By no means should LightSquared's proposal be judged any more critically or easily because of this episode. Instead, policymakers should make their decisions on the carrier's proposal based on conclusions from the engineering experts, not on the reactions of outsiders quoted in the media or posted in blog and forums on the Internet.

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Donny Jackson

Donny Jackson is editor of Urgent Communications magazine. Before joining UC in 2002, he covered telecommunications for four years as a freelance writer and as news editor for Telephony magazine....
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