Will LightSquared's Pain Be Clearwire's Gain?

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Rule Breaking ideas don't get bigger than using space to bring high-speed broadband to 86% of Americans, but that's what upstart wireless network operator LightSquared proposes. There's just one problem. Delivering on that promise could mean disrupting global positioning systems, a new report says.

According to The Wall Street Journal, LightSquared and a trade group representing the GPS industry will present test results to the Federal Communications Commission that show the carrier's LTE signals can interfere with GPS systems positioned too closely to its towers. Both General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) and Deere (NYSE: DE  ) contributed data to the report, after GM's OnStar and Deere's GPS systems had signals disrupted by LightSquared's signal, the Journal says.

Frequency is the issue. LightSquared is building its network using old satellite frequencies that operate near GPS bands, which leads to comingling. But that's only part of the problem. Unlike GPS, LightSquared doesn't broadcast directly from satellite. Instead, its space-based signals are amplified and then routed from some 40,000 ground-based cell towers. Comingling becomes interference around those towers, as stronger LTE signals overwhelm neighboring GPS broadcasts, the Journal reports.

The news must come as welcome relief for Clearwire (Nasdaq: CLWR  ) , a land-based competitor whose CLEAR network is based largely on the embattled WiMAX standard. A cash crunch and management turmoil have hurt that business in recent months, just as the rival LTE standard is turning heads for performing at heretofore unprecedented speeds in some metro areas. Both AT&T (NYSE: T  ) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) are building national LTE networks.

For its part, LightSquared is expected to tell the FCC that interference issues can be fixed via filtering both its network equipment and GPS devices. These filters would, in theory, differentiate signals in order to reduce interference.

LightSquared could also choose to use just a portion of the frequency assigned to its LTE network. The added spectrum distance would -- again, in theory -- reduce interference. In many ways, it's the same principle that governs your home wireless network. If you and your neighbor both operate Wi-Fi routers on channel 1, you'll likely interfere with each other. Move from channel 1 to channel 11, and the static should disappear. The downside? Such a solution would lower bandwidth.

Whatever the outcome, LightSquared's deployment could face delays and crimp plans to begin broadcasting to customers in the first half of next year. Clearwire could use the breathing room. Do you agree? Disagree? Let us know using the comments box below.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team. He didn't own shares in any of the stocks mentioned in this article at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader.

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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On June 15, 2011, at 6:59 PM, jopow wrote:

    Clearwire only needs money to build out a full USA Wimax, which can be converted to LTE with more money by changing software. Clearwire can only get more money by selling spectrum which it says is too valuable to sell right now. It can get money from Sprint, once Sprint figures out its own game plan, which is soon according to everybody in and outside of Sprint.

    Today, it was announced that Sprint and LS2 are definitely trying to work out final agreements and one step was done today on LS2 using Sprint's networks of cell towers and base stations.

    The probable scenario is that all three will marry up--Sprint, LS2 and Clearwire, to form some kind of delivery of 4G and modern networking.

    LS2 has the FCC really on its side to get that unused spectrum used for the public good, rather than wasted over GPS that is intruding into that adjacent spectrum.

    Sprint would not have bothered with today's LS2 deal unless there was likely FCC ultimate approvals.

    Look at it this way, the GPS industry is really loud and strong here, because, they can sense that the FCC wants that adjacent spectrum to be used. Someday, somebody will figure out a way to use it to everybody is happy

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