Messing With GPS

The radio frequencies that global positioning signals travel on have had plenty of space to operate without interference from neighboring signals. But a recent move by the FCC to change that has created a firestorm in GPS circles, with dire predictions of GPS signal disruption should the plan come to fruition.

A company called LightSquared has been granted a waiver that will allow it to repurpose the satellite spectrum that is immediately adjacent to GPS. Its goal is noble: To deliver satellite-based broadband capability to all corners of the country. But if implemented as proposed it could put GPS signals in harm’s way, according to Coalition to Save Our GPS, a group of organizations that depend on reliable GPS delivery.

I asked LightSquared for a statement about the current controversy, and the company said that “like all spectrum holders, we have an obligation to operate properly within our band, and we take that responsibility very seriously. In an open and transparent process, the FCC has granted LightSquared’s request to create a network capable of satellite and terrestrial wireless communication across the U.S. Millions of Americans have little or no access to high-speed broadband, and, in the spirit of The National Broadband Plan, we will be able to bring nationwide, seamless coverage.”

The company goes on to express its current and ongoing commitment to working with the FCC and the GPS community to move this forward in a way that satisfies all parties and does not jeopardize global positioning.

“We have committed to the FCC that by 2015, we will bring 4G wireless broadband to 92% of America, enabling critical and reliable communication to consumers, businesses, public safety workers and other government entities. We are investing billions to ensure this is done efficiently and safely,” the statement concludes.

The Coalition to Save Our GPS is concerned that the FCC is not asking enough of LightSquared in “proving no harm” to GPS signals if the LightSquared vision comes to pass. Trimble, a member of the Coalition to Save GPS, provided the following statement about the current situation:

“Trimble shares the concerns of many others regarding the potential of this new network to interfere with GPS users. Given the critical national importance of uninterrupted GPS service, we believe that the ability of the proposed new network to exist without harmful interference to existing GPS users must be conclusively proven prior to any launch.

“The consequences of disruption to the GPS signals would be very significant and likely to affect millions of users including transportation, federal and local government, first responders, airlines, civil engineering, utility networks, construction and surveying, agriculture, science and everyday consumers in their cars and on handheld devices.”

No one, especially those who live and work in the many dead zones that exist throughout rural America, would debate the benefit of wider access to broadband. But with agriculture’s deep reliance on GPS as the driver for precise operations, peak efficiency and accurate data collection and management, it can’t come at the expense of a clean positioning signal.

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