I Went Down to the Crossroads - Inside GNSS - Global Navigation Satellite Systems Engineering, Policy, and Design

I Went Down to the Crossroads

We stand at an existential crossroads while someone else decides our future. I don’t mean the choice of direction, currently roiling the front pages, that pits the national health against the national economy. No, this one doesn’t get the attention it deserves, outside of the PNT and the telecom communities, though arguably it could have equally long-running and widespread, perhaps catastrophic effects.

Ligado vs. GPS.

The telecom industry, the massive investment corporations owning much of it, the 5G movement, the broadband bidders, the Internet of Things and Big Tech arrayed on one side.

The GPS/PNT industry, the Pentagon, the airline industry, the Departments of Commerce, Energy, Homeland Security, Interior, Justice and Transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration, NASA and National Science Foundation, and a broad swathe of professional, industrial and consumer users lined up on the other side.

If you think the second group punches above the first, go turn in your Android or iPhone and delete your Facebook account. The match is essentially even.

It’s go time.

The matter has been brought to a vote before the five sitting commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission. None of them engineers, by the way. Four lawyers and a legislative analyst/policy advisor. Although each appointee was approved by Congress, it is legally unclear whether Congress may have any recourse after an FCC decision has been rendered. Those waters are unexplored. They are especially murky in today’s uncertain, erratic political climate.

Finally, there’s plenty of other bad stuff going on to distract us. Perhaps why this particular matter been brought to a decisive vote at precisely this point.

Ligado continues to try to ignore the physics. Furthermore, it has not addressed any of the interference issues regarding the newer, future-oriented signals such as L5 and L1C.

The recent Ligado filing was replete with misstatements and apparently deliberate omissions. For example: the contention that the GPS community has not addressed Ligado’s new 10 Watt signal. In actual fact, this has been the subject of virtually all the analysis for the last 2-1/2 years, as shown in the public minutes of the PNT ExCom Advisory Board.

What’s at risk? The safety of millions of airline passengers. The construction industry. The stock market and all its far-flung financial fingers. The efficiency and security of all road vehicle travel and the logistics supply chain. The utility grid. The telecom industry.

Wait, the telecom industry?

Yes. Telecoms, the Internet of Things, the fiber-optic network, the Cloud — they all need precise timing to function. And the requirement for that timing gets more ultra-precise the more those industries advance.


GPS is a “cross-sector dependency” for 13 of the 16 infrastructures areas the Department of Homeland Security considers critical to the economy.

In this special newsletter alert, two fresh news stories by our Washington correspondent Dee Ann Divis will bring you, too, down to the crossroads.