FAA Says LightSquared Network May Endanger Lives, Public Safety

FAA Says LightSquared Network May Endanger Lives, Public Safety

LightSquared’s proposed high-speed wireless network may “severely impact” the aviation navigation system in the U.S., according to the Federal Aviation Administration, as opposition mounts against the fledgling company’s future high-speed network.

The FAA’s assessment looked at LightSquared’s plans to build a national wireless network with more than 40,000 antennas, which the company would sell to other wireless carriers on a wholesale basis. The plans sparked concern from commercial aviation experts and GPS makers that LightSquared frequencies would overpower weaker GPS signals, which would require a costly retrofit of existing aviation GPS equipment that may also endanger public safety.

The “estimated loss of life from 2014 to 2023 as a result of LightSquared impacts to GPS” during the period when aircraft were retrofitted would include 794 deaths, with a value of life totaling $4.9 billion, the report states. Interference itself may cost $70 billion over the next ten years, according to the report.

“The effects of LightSquared deployment would be far-reaching and potentially devastating to aviation,” the report states. “Billions of dollars in existing FAA and GPS user investments would be lost.”

The FAA report called that estimate conservative too, as it did not include injuries or property loss.

The FAA’s objections come as LightSquared ramps up its business reselling network capacity to carriers, Web-based streaming content providers, cable companies and others with an interest in high-speed wireless. The company received the go-ahead in January to use satellite capacity for cell phone use.

The company also recently announced a partnership with Sprint, which would give the carrier $9 billion for spectrum hosting and LTE network services, helping Sprint expand its network capacity.

LightSquared also plans to sell its services to retailers and device makers, which would allow wireless broadband service to be bundled into products.

LightSquared’s future buildout may allow it to play a prominent role in telecommunications in coming years, but the significant public safety concerns may prove a formidable speed bump for the fledgling company.

LightSquared counters that the FAA’s report did not take into account recent proposed changes to the plan by LightSquared to address the issues raised.

“Simply put, the vast majority of the interference issues raised by this report are no longer an issue. We look forward to discussing this with the FAA,” said Jeff Carlisle, LightSquared’s executive vice president of Regulatory Affairs.

Instead, LightSquared is now focusing on the role their satellite system can play in coordinating emergency response during disasters.

“In an emergency, the last thing public safety workers should have to worry about is their ability to communicate with each other,” said Sanjiv Ahuja, chairman and chief executive officer of LightSquared.

Companies like Sprint are looking at LightSquared to expand their wireless capacities, but those strategies may be curtailed as LightSquared hits interference from public safety concerns.

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