The Defense Department urged spectrum regulators this week to reject a proposal by Virginia-based Ligado Networks to build a wireless terrestrial communication system that could, it said, interfere with GPS.
“All independent and scientifically valid testing and technical data shows the potential for widespread disruption and degradation of GPS services from the proposed Ligado system,” Secretary of Defense Mike Esper wrote in a November 18 letter. The Pentagon released the letter Wednesday.
Ligado is the successor to LightSquared, a firm that proposed in 2010 to use its licensed spectrum to build a powerful broadband network. The frequencies in question are in a band predominately allocated to satellite systems and neighbor those used by GPS. The current proposal, which has been modified from that submitted by LightSquared, is still deemed an interference threat by the GPS community based on recent tests.
“I believe there are too many unknowns and the risks are far too great to federal operations to allow Ligado’s proposed system to proceed,” Esper told Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.
The FCC put the original proposal by LightSquared on hold in 2012 after tests showed the potential for widespread interference to GPS. The firm filed bankruptcy and changed its name to Ligado Networks after emerging from bankruptcy in 2015.
“This letter is nothing new, and in fact, the exact same letter was sent to the FCC in June,” said Ashey Durmer, Ligado’s senior vice president, for government relations and corporate communications. These letters repeat the same thing opponents of Ligado have been trying to convince the FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which coordinates government use of spectrum, for years, she said. “While it is completely reasonable for the DOD to express its views, the ultimate authority on these issues is the FCC.”
Ligado has become a focus of news recently because it has a contract with Inmarsat. Some Inmarsat shareholders are concerned that a pending deal to acquire Inmarsat does not take the potential value of that contract sufficiently into account. That value is linked, according to experts, to whether the FCC approves Ligado’s proposal.
Esper noted that the National Executive Committee for Space-Based Positioning, Timing and Navigation (PNT EXCOM) — which comprises the DOD, the Department of Transportation and half a dozen other agencies that rely on GPS — had sent a letter to the NTIA in December recommending against approving the Ligado request.
“The Global Positioning System (GPS) signal and service need to be protected based on the importance of GPS to national security, civil services, and the economic benefits to the Nation,” Esper wrote.
[Image courtesy U.S. Department of Defense]