In 2010 the “buzz” at the Summit was “The Cloud”. In 2011 a very different cloud appeared on the horizon. This cloud is far less amorphous. It not only has a shape, it has a name. LightSquared. It appears to be dark and ominous and portends stormy weather for the survey community.
Without being too dramatic, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say this is perhaps the most important meeting I have ever attended. A year ago when Curt Sumner announced he was merging the ACSM Conference with the ESRI Survey Summit the announcement was met with a few whimpers, but mostly a deafening silence. What Curt wanted was a louder voice. How prescient that seems at the moment.
But let’s begin at the beginning. What is LightSquared? LightSquared is a 4-G wireless, broadband and satellite network. It formed to compete with Verizon and T-Mobile, but at a more attractive price and serving a much broader area.
So what’s wrong with that? Nothing if you are among the 99.5% of users who will receive better 4-G service. Unfortunately high end GPS users are not in that group.
The trouble began in November of 2010 when LightSquared petitioned the FCC for a waiver to build a large number of terrestrial towers. These would allow wireless broadband transmissions over large areas.
So what’s the problem? To put it in survey terms, it is something of a boundary dispute. It simply involves frequency boundaries rather than land boundaries. GPS will have to “share” some of the same bandwidth as the LightSquared Network. The 4-G network signal strength is millions of times more powerful than the GPS signal and tests show that will result in serious degradation of GPS positional values.
Most of the negotiations pursuant to the LightSquared proposal have occurred in government committees and advisory boards. LightSquared has never had a face-to-face with its most vocal critics in a public format until now. LightSquared sent a representative to speak to our segment of the user community.
LightSquared chose attorney Jeff Carlisle as its spokesperson for this discussion. Mr. Carlisle got a spot in the Plenary Session on July 10 to lay out his company plan. He focused largely on the history leading up to the apparent contretemps Pete Large of the Coalition to Save Our GPS was given a spot to rebut the Light Squared arguments and present facts in opposition.
On Sunday the issues were visited in greater detail by a panel discussion. John Matonich moderated an industry panel comprised of Joseph Paiva Ph.D., Curt Sumner, ACSM, Javad Ashjaee of JAVAD, Eric Gakstatter of GPS World Magazine and Mssrs. Carlisle and Large.
Dr. Ashjaee proposed DOD disable P-Code encryption to strengthen the GPS signal. Mr. Carlisle repeated LightSquared has a significant investment in this project and wants to move forward. Mr. Gakstatter holds the position that LightSquared's change of plan by waiver simply does not allow the GPS industry time to develop solutions for the changes that will result from the LightSquared Network coming on line.
In the end it seemed all agreed to disagree but posited the end result for surveyors will most likely be an out of pocket cost to replace current equipment.
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