FCC blocks LightSquared broadband system, admonishes GPS users

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The US Federal Communications Commission will prohibit mobile broadband start-up LightSquared from launching services that three government panels have determined will interfere with safety-critical navigation systems installed on thousands of commercial and military aircraft.

However, the FCC also plans to continue pressuring the aviation industry and Global Positioning System (GPS) community to shift to more sensitive receivers and remove obstacles to companies offering new mobile broadband receivers.

The FCC granted a waiver in January 2011 allowing LightSquared to launch an L-band data network, but prohibited the company from taking action until its technology was cleared as harmless to GPS receivers.

Following similar reports by separate panels led by the DoD and the FAA, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration on 14 February determined "there is no practical way to mitigate potential interference at this time," according to the FCC.

Based on the NTIA recommendation, the FCC was forced to prohibit LightSquared from moving forward, despite the agency's preference for new technologies that improve access to broadband data networks across the country.

"Consequently, the [FCC] will not lift the prohibition on LightSquared," the agency said.

But the FCC also faulted the GPS and aviation industries for using receivers that pick-up signals in neighbouring bands of the spectrum.

"There are very substantial costs to our economy and to consumers of preventing the use of this and other spectrum for mobile broadband," the agency said.

The agency called on all stakeholders to make more parts of the spectrum available for mobile broadband providers.

"Part of this effort should address receiver performance to help ensure the most efficient use of all spectrum to drive our economy and best serve American consumers," the agency said.

The FCC's admonition echoes a statement issued by LightSquared, which is vowing to continue to press for the right to move forward with its privately funded mobile broadband service.

LightSquared has called on the FCC to impose new reliability standards on commercial GPS receivers that would not pick up signals in other parts of the spectrum.