Aviation Safety v. Communications Clout—Ligado’s GPS interference

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Cellular threat to GPS reemerges

AOPA and industry opposes 

Based on Interference with GPS

Ligados major communications clout

LightSquared is back, safety concerns remain

A proposal to launch a high-speed cellular communications network, which could potentially interfere with GPS, is once again raising red flags for aviation groups, including AOPA. The proposal comes from Ligado Networks, formerly known as LightSquared, which in 2011 and 2012 became embattled with the FCC and the aviation industry over potential GPS interference issues. Ultimately the FCC revoked the company’s conditional approval to begin construction of a network, forcing LightSquared into bankruptcy in 2012.


In the latest round, AOPA and 10 other industry groups sent a letter on June 15 to the FAA calling on the agency to conduct further testing by an impartial third party to ensure the cellular signals, which are in a satellite frequency band very near GPS frequencies, won’t cause any disruption for GPS systems including for aircraft operating near the towers.

The letter states the coalition recognizes the value connectivity systems offer during aviation operations including enhanced communications, real-time data exchange, and flight tracking, but cannot ignore the potential risks the Ligado proposal presents to pilots.

As stated in the letter, “There remain outstanding issues that call into question the impacts such a system would have on airspace safety, specifically as it relates to both certified and uncertified GPS systems, continuity of navigational accuracy at low levels, and effects on other safety of flight systems to include satellite communications.”

Ligado claims its technology has improved since 2012 and it will only disrupt GPS signals within 500 feet of the transmission towers, but GA organizations aren’t convinced.

“Interference issues that have the potential to negatively impact the operational aviation environment remain unresolved and require definitive testing and evaluation before any system deployment,” the letter stated. Since 2012, the number of unmanned aircraft, which are especially reliant on GPS, has ballooned, and many such aircraft fly at low altitudes and would be particularly likely to operate within 500 feet of Ligado cell towers.

It is rare and in the context of the last five years or more, UNIQUE when ten Washington aviation associations agree on anything, but all of the following signed a letter to the Administrator:

  1. National Business Aviation Association,
  2. Air Line Pilots Association,
  3. Airborne Public Safety Association,
  4. Airlines for America,
  5. Association of Air Medical Services,
  6. Helicopter Association International,
  7. Helicopter Safety Advisory Conference,
  8. National Agricultural Aviation Association,
  9. National EMS Pilots Association, and
  10. Professional Helicopter Pilots Association.

This same alliance successfully blocked the previous attempt by this company to use the same, allegedly refined, technology (a terrestrial cellular network within what is a satellite frequency band) which previously was dismissed because of its risk to interfere with GPS signals used by aviation and other industries. Safety is usually a trump (no pun intended) card in the arena of public.  It may not win this time.

The opposition is not limited to the aviation industry and the current technical assessment is not favorable to Ligado.

A reputable source, FORBES, opines that Ligado’s changes are adequate:

Ligado Networks has experienced a similar pushback and pronouncements of doom from existing GPS technologies as it tried to deploy its innovative ground-to-satellite wireless service. Ligado builds custom private networks for the natural resources management, rail, transportation, utilities and public safety industries. Its unique innovation is to offer seamless, intelligent connectivity with a ground-based network and state-of-the art satellites, compatible with 4G/LTE and emerging 5G standards. These assets are ideal for pervasive connectivity to small, fixed and mobile devices in remote locations as well as seamless flexibility between a diverse set of devices, protocols, and architectures in a variety of industrial operations, whether a farm, factory, oil field, railroad, interstate highway, port, warehouse, and so on.

Ligado Is Ready To Launch A New Mobile Network. Will The FCC Let Them?

Political heavy weight, Sen. John E. Sununu, wrote an OpEd piece for The HILL opined (the former White House Chief of Staff for President George H.W. Bush, Governor and Congressman advises the Company):

I’ve worked closely with Ligado’s team for the past year, and over that time, have witnessed their commitment to resolve issues, find compromise and develop plans that advance U.S. infrastructure. They have dramatically reduced operating power levels, relinquished spectrum to create a wide guard band for GPS, and coordinated with the industry to show that these technologies can readily coexist.

I recognize disagreements are a routine part of Washington policymaking. But it’s one thing to have an honest debate based upon facts; it’s another to make allegations based on outdated and incorrect information. The truth is that this new proposal has been under review for over two years by officials at cabinet-level agencies. They have worked to conduct a thorough and objective review, and we ought to have confidence in them to do their jobs.

As the FCC gets closer to acting on Ligado’s spectrum plan, let’s hope that discussion will focus on details in the record and what’s actually being proposed. With so much opportunity for investment and job creation on the line, it’s worth getting the facts right.

The Ligado Board of Directors is a communications powerhouse:

·         Ivan G. Seidenberg Chairman, Ligado Networks, LLC; served as Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of Bell Atlantic and NYNEX Corp.. the Chairman of the Board of Verizon Communications, Inc;  Director of CBS Corporation from 1995 to May 19, 2004.




  • Timothy M. Donahue– Executive Chairman of Sprint Nextel Corporation and the former President and Chief Executive Officer of Nextel Communications, Inc Northeast regional president for AT&T Wireless Services; president of the central region of its predecessor company, McCaw Cellular Communications; and president of McCaw’s paging division.




  • Reed E. Hundt sits on the Board of Directors of Intel Corporation, the world’s leading semiconductor design and manufacturing firm,. He was Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission from 1993 to 1997 and served on Barack Obama’s 2008-2009 Presidential transition team

  • Doug Smith, Chief Executive Officer for Ligado Networks, launched nationwide networks for GTE, Nextel, Sprint Nextel, and Clearwire. Sprint’s Senior Vice President and Chief Technical Operations Officer






  • Jared S. Hendricks a senior managing director for Centerbridge Partners, L.P., leading the firm’s investments in telecom, technology, and media.

  • John Fischer serves as an advisor to several high-tech start-ups and has significant experience advising telecommunications clients. As Logica Consulting’s managing partner of Telecoms, Mr. Fischer directed a wide range of telecom industry projects in 16 different countries on behalf of major U.S., European, and Japanese companies. In addition to his tenure at that pan-European management consultancy, Mr. Fischer served as general counsel of LCC International, Inc., a global wireless communications engineering company.






  • Alfred F. Hurley, Jr. is a member of Ligado Network’s Board of Directors, serving on the Audit Committee. An independent consultant since 2014, Mr. Hurley has extensive experience in corporate development, management and finance.

Portrait of Ligado Board Member







Hopefully aviation safety will prevail over communications clout.[1]


[1]Werner, Debra (23 September 2011). “U.S. Republican lawmakers call for investigation of LightSquared case”. Spacenews. Retrieved 31 October 2016.; Jump up to:a b Krigman, Eliza. “LightSquared execs fire back”Politico. Retrieved 31 October 2016.;Jump up^ Mike McIntyre and Christopher Drew (7 March 2007). “In ’05 Investing, Obama Took Same Path as Donors”The New York Times. Retrieved 8 April 2017.


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1 Comment on "Aviation Safety v. Communications Clout—Ligado’s GPS interference"

  1. AT&T offers IOT–http://www.iotevolutionworld.com/iot/articles/438645-att-launch-narrowband-iot-network-us-mexico.htm

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