LightSquared, a company that represents possible billions in revenue to Sprint Nextel, suffered a severe blow Tuesday to its chances of lighting up a wireless network.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration said LightSquared’s plans posed a significant and perhaps insurmountable threat to global positioning devices.
That threat to navigation, under review by the Federal Communications Commission, could doom LightSquared.
The company has already launched a communications satellite. It plans to build a network from conventional earthbound cell towers, partly in concert with Sprint, and combine them with its satellite for a network with both wireless broadband and nearly ubiquitous coverage.
But the radio spectrum it secured through a provisional license works with radio waves very close to the frequency used by satellite navigation devices. The telecommunications agency said Tuesday in a recommendation to the FCC that even revised plans by LightSquared to avoid problems seemed unlikely to work, risking widespread jamming of GPS devices.
“It is our conclusion at this time that there are no mitigation strategies that both solve the interference issues and provide LightSquared with an adequate commercial network deployment,” the agency wrote.
Were LightSquared allowed to move forward with its plans, Overland Park-based Sprint stood to reap billions in revenue for installing the company’s transmitters and other electronics in tandem with much of Sprint’s network. The two companies also had plans to share capacity, a possibility that could extend the coverage for both carriers.
LightSquared has complained throughout the regulatory process about two issues. First, it has suggested that it had to adjust its operations to accommodate a generation of GPS receivers that are too easily jammed. The frequencies assigned to LightSquared have been little used because the spectrum had been given to satellite phone companies, and they have represented a string of commercial failures.
Secondly, LightSquared said the government’s tests were poor approximations of real-world conditions.
The company said it still hoped to win FCC approval.
“Sprint,” the carrier said in an email, “supports LightSquared’s business plans and efforts to resolve potential interference issues expediently.”