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FCC Makes It Official: More Testing for LightSquared

The FCC said, officially, Tuesday that it cannot let LightSquared proceed to use its satellite spectrum for terrestrial broadband without further testing of its potential interference with GPS systems.

It had already put a hold on that authorization after initial testing found issues with the sensitivity of GPS receivers being interfered with by LightSquared transmissions even though those transmissions were not bleeding into the adjacent GPS band. LightSquared wants to build a wholesale 4G wireless network that could be branded by cable operators and others looking to add mobile service to their bundles.

In the wake of that testing, LightSquared modified its proposal, saying initially, at least, it would use only the lower 10 MHz part of its band, reduce power and foot the bill for research into better GPS receivers. LightSquared execs say the issue is with the sensitivity of GPS receivers, an issue that industry did not raise until after LightSquared had invested billions based on the FCC conditional authorization. The GPS industry counters that the problem is that there would not have been a receiver problem had LightSquared not sought to use its satellite spectrum for a terrestrial-only service several billion times more powerful than the satellite signal.

The FCC said Tuesday that testing of LightSquared in the lower band showed "significant improvement" over the upper 10 MHz adjacent to the GPS band, but that "there continue to be interference concerns, e.g., with certain types of high-precision GPS receivers, including devices used in national security and aviation applications. Additional tests are therefore necessary."

FCC officials had made clear in a briefing with reporters several weeks ago that it would not allow LightSquared to proceed until it was sure the interference issues -- which include navigation, weather monitoring and emergency response -- had been resolved.

But they also made clear that they wanted to find a solution that would allow LightSquared to create a new national wholesale wireless network as a price and service competitor.

LightSquared has continued to strike deals, including with Sprint to build the network and most recently this week with VoX Communications, which is looking to add mobile wireless to its VoIP offerings.