Buyers beware of the Ligado Spectrum

As the Federal Aviation Administration last week determined how to prevent 5G transmitter towers from interfering with aircraft navigation systems, Ligado Networks announced plans to commercialize its spectrum through brokerage and advisory firm Select. spectrum.

caveat emptor, as the Romans said, or “buyer beware”. If America learned anything this month, it’s this: Just because the FCC says it’s allowed, doesn’t mean it’s finally allowed. The FCC does not always have the final say on spectrum use.

Ligado Networks was authorized by the Federal Communications Commission in April 2020 to deploy a terrestrial network in the spectrum adjacent to the bands reserved for global positioning services (GPS). This is the spectrum that Ligado is now trying to sell.

Wireless companies paid $94 billion to the US Treasury and satellite companies for the right to use spectrum for 5G in the C-band, between 3.7 and 3.98 GHz. But due to FAA concerns that planned 5G transmitters would interfere with aircraft radio altimeters, AT&T and Verizon have reduced power for deployments using the 3.7-3.8 GHz band around select airports until April. July 5, 2022.

The FAA has not yet announced the results of its tests for radio altimeter interference from wireless transmissions in the 3.8-4.0 GHz band, which is expected to be available within the next two years. There could still be further delays and reductions in spectrum use near major and minor airports.

The same pattern of exclusions and unforeseen delays from FAA concerns with C-band could be repeated by other federal agencies with Ligado spectrum when it is commercially developed. Some unsuspecting companies might buy Ligado spectrum and think they were getting a good deal, but a federal agency might say no.

The Department of Transportation’s warnings about aircraft safety issues from 5G operations in C-band did not enter the official FCC record, so AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon were not on the record. aware of FAA concerns when bidding for C-band spectrum. With more transparency, companies might have spent less. However, potential purchasers of Ligado spectrum are cautioned that executive branch agencies and members of Congress are concerned about the effects on GPS of using Ligado terrestrial spectrum.

The first warning to potential buyers of Ligado spectrum came on May 22, 2020, when the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, on behalf of the entire executive branch, filed a petition for reconsideration with the Federal Commission communications, requesting that the FCC rescind the approval of the license amendment granted to Ligado. The NTIA said the license change “will cause irreparable harm to federal government users of the Global Positioning System.”

The second warning came on June 22, 2021, when Senators Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Mike Rounds (R-SD) introduced a bill requiring Ligado to pay private companies the replacement cost. or repair GPS devices that have been damaged by its operations. In the FCC Ligado order, Ligado was to reimburse the federal government for damaged public equipment, but not for private equipment.

Interference may occur because the signals from Ligado will be two billion times stronger than the received GPS signals. Ligado’s signals could interfere not only with general aviation and helicopter navigation devices, but also with the navigation systems of emergency vehicles such as ambulances and fire engines. According to the Space Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Advisory Board, which provides independent advice to the federal government, “Virtually all receivers will be degraded if they are too close to a Ligado transmitter.”

Ligado 5G transmitters drowning out GPS signals, pipeline maintenance and system operations would be affected. Additionally, private pilots might find that navigation technology isn’t working, athletes might find that their health trackers aren’t working, and firefighters might not be able to get to their destination. GPS is also used for precision agriculture and construction, surveying, and power grid.

Ligado investors are more likely to sell its spectrum to an existing operator than to build an independent national network. According to many observers, Ligado was to sell its spectrum to Verizon. However, with the company’s recent press release on Select Spectrum, Ligado may be looking for other suitors.

Harbinger Capital Partners, Ligado’s investors, spent $3.3 million on lobbyists in the first three quarters of 2021. But even those lobbyists can’t defeat the laws of physics and stop Ligado from degrading GPS and interfere with navigation systems. What we’ve seen over the past month is that the FAA will not sit idly by and let this happen, and other federal agencies may follow suit to protect GPS.

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