LightSquared cries foul over GPS advisory board

WASHINGTON Thu Jan 12, 2012 7:07pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Telecom startup LightSquared is asking for an investigation of a possible conflict of interest by a member of an advisory board that has already warned against its technology because of interference with the global positioning system.

LightSquared, which needs government approval of its high-speed wireless technology by the end of the month to keep its major partner on board, lodged its probe request with NASA Inspector General Paul Martin late Wednesday.

The petition charges that Bradford Parkinson, sometimes referred to as the father of GPS, serves as vice chairman of the National Space-Based Position, Navigation, and Timing Advisory Board while also a director for Trimble Navigation Ltd, which makes GPS equipment and has been a vocal opponent of LightSquared's network.

Lightsquared said Parkinson may have violated a federal conflict of interest law and ethics regulations.

It charges that any GPS interference is the result of GPS receivers "looking in" to LightSquared's spectrum.

LightSquared said Trimble could take a financial hit if regulators approved LightSquared's network, which would force the company "to address the problematic design and manufacturing process that has resulted in its high-precision receivers looking into LightSquared's spectrum."

The Coalition to Save Our GPS, formed last March by Trimble and other companies concerned with LightSquared's impact on the satellite-based GPS system, said the allegations have no merit and instead point to LightSquared's increasing desperation.

Coalition spokesman Dale Leibach said Parkinson's role as a leading expert on GPS justified his roles at both the advisory board and Trimble. Parkinson was the original program director and chief architect of GPS.

"It appears that LightSquared has now run out of solutions and has nothing left but baseless allegations about process," Leibach said.

Preliminary analysis of U.S. government tests found that LightSquared's signal would cause "harmful interference" to a majority of GPS devices. Final analysis and additional testing are still pending.

Reston, Va.-based LightSquared has teamed up with other companies to design filters for GPS equipment.

Deployment of LightSquared's network depends on regulatory approval from both the Federal Communications Commission and a green light from the Defense Department.

LightSquared intends to invest $14 billion over the next eight years to build its network, and aims to sell wholesale wireless services to companies which would then resell the service under their own brand names.

Billionaire hedge fund manager Philip Falcone has bet more than $3 billion of his Harbinger Capital Partners money on LightSquared.

Sprint Nextel Corp, would share some of the network and help build it out for $9 billion, but the agreement is contingent on LightSquared getting regulatory clearance by the end of January.

(Reporting By Jasmin Melvin; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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