LightSquared says GPS fix will cost $50-$300

The carrier is offering to cover the cost of fixing all federally-owned precision GPS gear

Satellite-4G carrier LightSquared said Wednesday that gear to prevent interference between its network and precision GPS gear will cost $50 to $300 per device and it is in talks with the U.S. government about covering the cost of upgrading or replacing all federally-owned devices.

LightSquared said the total cost for the government gear would be in the tens of millions of dollars, but declined to be more specific because it does not yet know how many precision GPS devices the government owns or what kinds of devices they are.

The company isn't planning to pay for the replacement or retrofitting of GPS gear used by private companies, said Terry Neal, LightSquared's senior vice president of communications. "We have not made an offer to swap out all the devices in the known universe." But he said users would not face an "onerous cost" to solve the problem.

LightSquared discussed the figures in a conference call on Wednesday afternoon following its announcement earlier in the day that it has receiver technology that can solve the interference problem between LightSquared's network and precision GPS. In the original announcement, the carrier had not specified a cost for the solution.

Tests have shown interference between GPS and the LTE (Long Term Evolution) network that LightSquared wants to operate on frequencies that are now devoted to satellite services. The U.S. Federal Communication Commission has said it will not approve the network unless the interference problems can be solved.

For now, LightSquared has dropped plans to use an upper portion of the spectrum band where the network could affect millions of consumer, aviation and other GPS devices. But it still wants to use a lower set of frequencies where its network would affect precision GPS. That technology is used mostly in agriculture, construction and surveying, according to LightSquared. The new technology would solve all or nearly all of the problems in that band, Neal said.

The federal government probably has tens of thousands of precision GPS receivers, most of them used in surveying by agencies such as the Army Corps of Engineers, though there may be military uses as well, Neal said.

The Coalition to Save Our GPS, an industry group that fiercely opposes LightSquared's plan, estimates there are between 750,000 and 1 million precision GPS devices in use by government and the private sector.

Earlier on Wednesday, the group slammed LightSquared's claim that it has a way to stop interference with precision GPS.

"LightSquared has, as usual, oversimplified and greatly overstated the significance of the claims of a single vendor to have 'solved' the interference issue," the group said in a statement. No one product can solve interference for the wide range of applications of precision GPS, which include aviation and life-safety operations, it said.

"If and when solutions are available, LightSquared must accept responsibility for paying to replace the existing base of existing equipment with new products," the Coalition said. Coalition officials were not immediately available to comment on LightSquared's cost estimates or plans to cover upgrades for the government.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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