Trouble Brewing for Wireless Broadband

Let me start by explaining how this relates to HDTV. A growing number of U.S. consumers are turning to the Internet for some or all of their video content. Consumers are also becoming accustomed to getting the content they want, where they want, when they want. This means that we are growing to expect broadband Internet access wherever we go. WiFi can’t cut it, with its 300 foot (theoretical) limit. So there are many efforts underway to create wireless high-speed Internet access. This would also pay dividends in terms of delivering the Internet to sparsely populated areas where the build out costs for a wired solution might be prohibitive.

If you’re still with me, then let’s turn our attention to an outfit named Lightsquared. This company is building what it calls “the only national 4G-LTE open wireless broadband network that incorporates nationwide satellite coverage and offers the capacity to support the explosive demand generated by new consumer devices and mobile applications.” So far, so good. The company even was granted a conditional waiver by the FCC to allow the expansion of terrestrial use of the existing satellite radio spectrum. Companies including Best Buy, Cablevision, and Time Warner Cable apparently expressed interest in using Lightsquared’s system.

And then the Law of Unintended Consequences reared its ugly head. Some people got the idea that Lightsquared’s signals might interfere with GPS devices. By April, the Coalition to Save Our GPS represented more than 30,000 companies and was raising the alarm with the FCC and Congress. According to the group, “LightSquared plans to transmit ground-based radio signals that would be one billion or more times more powerful as received on earth than GPS’s low-powered satellite-based signals, potentially causing severe interference impacting millions of GPS receivers.”

What’s the truth of the situation? Last week, results of tests by a working group were announced and they clearly showed that the system will cause significant problems with GPS operations, especially in urban areas. This could cause serious problems for aircraft which rely heavily on GPS for navigation systems.

After pushing the FCC to rush the approval process, Lightsquared yesterday suddenly put on the brakes and asked for a two week delay in delivering the working group test report. It appears that the only solution will be to find other parts of the radio spectrum for the company to use, and radio spectrum is something that is in short supply these days.

It is likely that this setback for Lightsquared will only increase the calls for access to the “unused” spectrum that is currently assigned to local television broadcast stations. It is possible that it will also encourage those who are questioning whether we need terrestrial broadcast of television at all. This is a subject that could have wide-reaching implications for many aspects of the consumer entertainment industry, and I’ll try to keep you posted on developments.

If you use Twitter, please follow me at @AlfredPoor. I’ll let you know what other stories I have written for other sites as they are posted.