LightSquared Says GPS Tests Rigged

January 19th, 2012 by · 6 Comments

One would have hoped that by now cooler heads would have prevailed, but it looks like the heated rhetoric between LightSquared and the GPS industry is going the distance. Following tests by the Air Force Space Command in which they fared badly, the company says that the whole thing was rigged by GPS industry insiders.

Specifically, LightSquared says they cherry-picked the devices most likely to fail the test, then set an unrealistically high threshold for success that they knew could never be met and which actually doesn't have anything to do with GPS positional accuracy. The only mass market device that failed the tests, passed other testing by the Technical Working Group.  In all, LightSquared says they flat out cheated.

Honestly, though, as someone with engineering training I'm not at all surprised by the possibility of a biased test.  In fact, a large fraction of government testing is designed with the single aim of illustrating results that are pretty much already known but which are needed for a powerpoint slide somewhere to justify something.  The big guys want this to go away, so someone produced a study that tries to help out with the justification.

This debate has long since left the 'who is right' question behind and moved on to 'who has might'.  The side with the might is the one that gets to decide what tests are definitive in the eyes of politicians.  LightSquared is running out of time, and in an election year few politicians are going to risk their own hides to stop the GPS industry from wrapping this up. Sprint gave them until the end of the month to get the clearance their wholesale agreement requires - that just ain't gonna happen.

But what *will* happen eventually is another matter. We need to find some way to use that spectrum better than we currently are, because there just isn't enough of it right now for the mobile data flood that is to come. While LightSquared's timing and funding may not let them beat the GPS industry, there are others waiting in line currently searching the couch cushions for spectrum that have the muscle to be rather more formidable. Sooner or later, there will have to be a compromise of sorts I think.

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Categories: Government Regulations · Wireless

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6 Comments So Far


  • mhammett says:

    As there are technical solutions for the problem that over the long term are more cost effective than not doing them, it will eventually happen.

  • Baylink says:

    GPS is a life safety, not alone a national-security, service; making the test as stringent as possible isn’t “rigging”; it’s “due diligence”.

    May anyone who thinks otherwise have a GPS-guided autopilot fly them into the side of a mountain.

    • mhammett says:

      There are technical resolutions for the problem. Bandpass filters can resolve these issues. It’s also not like this is anything new, the GPS industry just chose to do nothing instead of adapt itself.

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