Could new wireless network render GPS devices useless?
By Alan Levin, USA TODAY
A new high-speed wireless network given initial approval for installation across the nation could cause severe disruptions to GPS signals, rendering everything from car-navigation systems to jet-flight controls useless, industry groups and government agencies charge.
A trade group called The Coalition to Save Our GPS is announcing its formation today, and on Friday a representative for the Global Positioning System industry will testify on the issue before the House Commerce Appropriations Subcommittee.
The Federal Communications Commission wants the LightSquared network to begin serving 100 million customers by the end of next year. Several government agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration and the Commerce Department, have raised concerns that the technology could cause conflicts with GPS systems.
Industry groups predict the new towers will create vast zones where motorists can’t find GPS directions, smartphones will lose functionality, and 911 emergency systems will be confounded.
“It will overwhelm the signal from the GPS,” says Jim Kirkland, general counsel of Trimble Navigation, a leading manufacturer of GPS systems. “If a commercial airliner is coming in on approach and it loses its GPS signal, then they abort the landing. Think what (interference from a wireless transmitter) would do to BWI or LaGuardia (airports).”
LightSquared, a Virginia company, plans to install 40,000 cell locations across the country, in an area that would jeopardize GPS signals in as much as 1 million square miles, the industry contends.
The system also could undercut the government’s plan to modernize the air-traffic system to use GPS signals over the next decade.
The conflict pits two of the most popular consumer technologies against each other: the growing wireless networks that power iPads and smartphones, vs. the network of GPS satellites that enable much of the same technology.
The FCC on Jan. 26 granted LightSquared a waiver to build its network because it will increase competition for broadband services and create tens of thousands of new jobs, but the company will not be allowed to proceed if it interferes with GPS signals, spokesman Robert Kenny says.
A committee including LightSquared and GPS industry officials will conduct tests and respond by June, the agency ordered.
LightSquared says it has filters that prevent its signal from interfering with GPS devices, says Jeff Carlisle, LightSquared’s executive vice president for regulatory affairs. The company has no interest in harming GPS because it is essential to the very smartphones on its networks, Carlisle says.
GPS leaders, such as Garmin, contend that the FCC shouldn’t have given LightSquared permission to move forward before tests were done.