FCC blocks LightSquared’s launch

Billionaire hedge fund manager Philip Falcone's hopes to build a state-of-the-art open wireless broadband network are put on hold because his signal jams GPS devices.

LightSquared's founder's efforts to create a 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) wireless network have been shut down by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) after the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) concluded that there was no way around interfering with GPS signals. The Reston, Virginia-based start-up, launched on July 20, 2010 by billionaire hedge fund manager Philip Falcone, is working to build a state-of-the-art open wireless broadband network that would complement existing and emerging networks by operating on a wholesale basis exclusively.

The FCC granted LightSquared a conditional waiver last January that prohibited the company from commencing commercial service until it could prove its signals wouldn’t jam those of GPS devices. Having failed to do so, the FCC is looking to revoke LightSquared’s operating permit.

In a letter to the FCC from Lawrence E. Strickling, NTIA’s Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information, he states, “We conclude at this time that there are no mitigation strategies that both solve the interference issues and provide LightSquared with an adequate commercial network deployment.” New technologies in the future could be the answer to LightSquared’s woes, but the time and money it would take to replace existing GPS technology isn’t supported by LightSquare’s scheduled deployment.

The issue at hand stems from LightSquared’s initial plan to transmit its signal directly adjacent to that used on the GPS spectrum–a situation that would prove extremely problematic not only for personal navigation devices, but also for the aviation and military industries as well. In an effort to gain regulatory approval, LightSquared made several concessions including reducing its spectrum band by essentially half to 10 MHz. However, the company’s efforts weren’t enough to circumvent the problem of signal interference.

LightSquared was hoping to sell its wireless service on a wholesale basis to rival giants like Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint. According to its website, such a business model would “lead to dramatically lower prices on the retail level and give consumers a brand-new option for wireless broadband.”

Although the company has hit a major speed bump in its aggressive agenda, Falcone has been reported as saying that he’s ruled out bankruptcy and is standing by his company, confident that the issue will eventually be resolved. A written statement from LightSquared notes, “We remain committed to finding a solution and believe that if all the parties have that same level of commitment, a solution can be found.”

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