If so, an April 22, 2020, decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) might be of interest.
On that date, the FCC voted unanimously (5-0) to approve Ligado Networks’ license to build a terrestrial-based communication network that Ligado claims will “accelerate 5G and the emerging Industrial Internet of Things.”
Great, but what does that have to do with GPS? A lot, according to nearly every 3- and 4-letter advocacy group.
During a June 23 National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) webinar, “Ligado’s GPS Threat and NBAA’s Work To Oppose It,” Max Fenkell, director of unmanned and emerging aviation technologies for the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), noted GPS has contributed more than $1.4 trillion of economic impact, adding the FCC’s decision will have a huge impact across many industries.
Ligado, formerly know as LightSquared, emerged from bankruptcy in 2015 with a plan to develop a network that will support telecom companies’ 5G network aspirations. Ligado’s idea is to serve as the backbone that will make all those 5G commercials we see on TV a reality — not to mention making it possible for your refrigerator to tell your grocery store that you are just about out of milk and butter. Admittedly, that’s a greatly oversimplified example of the Internet of Things.
The problem, as best I can understand, is that everyone from the departments of Defense, Transportation, and Justice, to the airline industry, farmers, road builders, boaters, general aviation industry advocates, and many, many more, oppose the FCC’s decision, saying Ligado’s plans will interfere with GPS signals.
If you don’t use GPS, and I suppose there are a few who don’t, then this shouldn’t be a problem. But for the rest of us, this could be a big problem.
Ligado claims its modified license application to operate in the L-band spectrum will not cause GPS interference. Further, company officials agree they are on the hook, financially, if the network actually interferes with Department of Defense (DOD) GPS. But what about the rest of us GPS users?
The following image from Ligado’s letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee refutes “DOD Fiction” with “Facts.” Imagine a new — and noisy — neighbor moves in next door. That noise, according to DOD, will cause a great deal of interference with existing GPS signals.
Ligado claims as fact the adjustments it has made to the system, which includes a 99% reduction in power as well as a 23MHz separation between its system and the GPS system, make GPS the equivalent of a nosy neighbor looking and listening for interference.
As reported by Federal Computer Week, “On May 22, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the Commerce subcomponent that manages civilian federal spectrum, formally asked the FCC to rescind license approval to Ligado because its planned network would ’cause irreparable harm to federal government users’ of GPS.”
In fact, as reported in C4ISRNET.com, Congress has also expressed concerns regarding the FCC’s action.
“A bill from Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., would escalate the potential cost facing Ligado as it moves to set up a system of networks that government agencies and commercial trade groups alike have said could damage GPS reliability inside the United States.”
The legislation would “require the company to cover the costs of any Global Positioning System user — government or commercial — that is hurt by the company’s newly approved use of L-Band spectrum.”
Not surprisingly, Garmin has also weighed in. It filed a letter seeking to “supplement and correct the record regarding several faulty assertions” the FCC used to arrive at its unanimous decision to approve Ligado’s application. The letter is as interesting as it is nuanced.
On May 28, just over a month after the FCC’s decision, Ligado announced “more than $100 million in new investments to begin taking the necessary steps to build 5G IoT networks that serve mission-critical industries like public safety and emergency response, commercial transportation, energy, and manufacturing.”
The investors weren’t disclosed. I wonder if that has something to do with the widespread opposition to the FCC’s decision? After all, the timing of the investment seems to indicate that FCC approval was a prerequisite for funding.
“Follow the money” seems an appropriate statement, but Ligado — and its investors — are making that difficult.
In response to the FCC’s April 22 decision, the Keep GPS Working Coalition, consisting of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), and the Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatU.S.), is endorsing Inhofe’s in-progress legislation.
Of course, Ligado says the claims of its opponents are unfounded and that multiple studies and research show the network will not impact GPS as feared. If I were Ligado CEO Doug Smith, I’d say the same things.
So what can be done? I’d suggest a bit of reading on the topic. If this many organizations oppose Ligado’s proposed network, there has to be something to it. Right?
You’d think we could get to a consensus on the system’s impact BEFORE it is turned on. And if you feel compelled to act, let your senators and representatives know your opinion and why GPS is so important to you.
That is, if you do use GPS.