Boaters celebrate win in battle over GPS frequency
Photo by Bev McMullen
In just a few years, GPS has become an essential tool for boaters. So when an American company began eyeing a technology that would interfere with the satelite system, boaters in their thousands began writing to express their opposition.
MUSKOKA — Boating groups and other organizations across North America are declaring victory in what they’ve described as a fight to save the GPS system.
A broad range of groups – from the Boat Owners Association of The United States to FedEx to Professional Surveyors Canada – began expressing concerns in early 2011 with a private company’s plans to create a U.S.-wide 4G broadband cellular network.
LightSquared is a U.S. satellite phone services company. In 2001 LightSquared asked the American Federal Communications Commission for permission to use a satellite frequency band for a combination of satellite and ground-based wireless communications. Initial permission was granted and LightSquared began developing a plan for a wholesale open wireless broadband network across the U.S. in conjunction with Nokkia Seimens Network.
LightSquared – backed by billions of dollars in venture funding – proposed to build a 4G-LTE wireless broadband network with up to 40,000 ground-based towers plus satellite coverage throughout the United States by 2015. The system would operate at a frequency in the 1525 - 1559 MHz band and the ground-based transmission stations would produce a very high signal strength.
While the network would allow seamless transition between satellite and tower-based communications, eliminating dead spots, many groups were concerned that it would also interfere with a number of existing technologies that function in nearby frequencies, most notably the GPS system.
Boaters were particularly sensitive to the issue, since the only other positioning system, a low-frequency radio system called LORAN, was shut down in 2010 to save money, and because so many boats and ships were switching to GPS systems that is used on both sides of the border.
“Boaters can appreciate having GPS first hand,” BoatUS president Margaret Podlich said in a release. “They know it will get them safely home, help them find the best fishing, meet friends for an afternoon raft-up, and greatly speed their rescue if the day goes bad.”
The system has countless other uses, ranging from delivering parcels to helping farmers precisely administer fertilizers.
Letters opposing the plan poured in to the FCC – BoatUS alone delivered 18,000 letters from boaters.
In February, the FCC announced it would revoke the permission it had given LightSquared, and in May the company announced it was filing for bankruptcy.
Although LightSquared has been developing an alternate proposal that would include a frequency swap, many analysts are skeptical that the plan will succeed.