The mobile service provider hopes to add privately held LightSquared as a second source of high-speed data networking. But that service is running into regulatory roadblocks and might be dead in the water. LightSquared's proposed 4G-LTE network, backed by a hybrid of earthbound radio towers plus a unique direct satellite uplink, may interfere with GPS devices.
Sprint has extended LightSquared's deadlines for FCC approval, but another month might not be enough. Last week, a White House committee said that the network is an impossible dream.
The National Space-Based Positioning Navigation and Timing Committee reached a "unanimous conclusion" that there are no real, workable fixes for the GPS interference problems that would arise. This recommendation, which basically closes the book on LightSquared and doesn't even ask for new solutions or further testing, is an important piece of information when the FCC makes its final verdict on the situation.
But of course, LightSquared can't afford this very depressing outcome. The company sees the committee report as evidence of a "systemic pattern of bias and collusion." LightSquared claims that, "Members of the PNT Advisory Board have deep ties with the same GPS manufacturers who have sold poorly designed equipment to America's farmers, public safety officials, military and government agencies."
The committee includes a board member of GPS maker Trimble Navigation. LightSquared alleges that this inappropriate industry connection led the committee to use unrealistically strong power levels and outdated GPS receivers in their testing, which stacked the deck against LightSquared and "nearly guaranteed failure."
The company is asking for another round of fair and unbiased testing, and believes that technological solutions to the GPS problem are within reach. Also, the company has owned spectrum licenses for eight years, so boo on the GPS industry for not planning around the issue already!
Knocking out GPS receivers nationwide is a political and commercial impossibility. Can LightSquared and Sprint scramble up a new testing report and sell their conclusions to the FCC before it's too late? ClearWire sure hopes they won't. Don't take your eye off this high-stakes drama. Just click here to add a few key players to your watchlist, and you'll be sure to catch every play as it happens.
Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinion, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Check out Anders' holdings and bio, or follow him on Twitter and Google+. We have a disclosure policy.