Ligado Networks, formerly called LightSquared, is a satellite and communications company contracted by the Department of Defense for its 5G upgrade project. However, after the analysis done by the National Academies of Sciences, sponsored by the DoD, it was found that Ligado’s services will interfere with all US satellites within 2,410 feet of their terminals.

In June of last year, Ligado Networks announced that they had partnered with Saankhya Labs to develop next-gen satellite communication solutions. Saankhya Labs specializes in 5G NR, broadband, and satellite communication applications. The partnership is geared towards providing enterprise solutions to global companies and the US military.

“It is worth noting that both Saankhya Labs and Ligado Networks have deployed standards-based technologies so that satellite broadcast services can also be enabled in inexpensive and mainstream devices,” according to their announcement.

The late Chief Technology Officer of Ligado, Maqbool Aliani, said the 5G private network services development has become a top priority for them because “ubiquitous satellite and terrestrial connectivity is very important for its enterprise customers.” As SOFREP previously covered, 5G will have many applications not only in the commercial and private sectors but also in the military.

A year after the partnership announcement, the efforts will not come to fruition. As noted in the mandated research report, Ligado’s Networks’ authorized use of the radio frequency spectrum near brands used by GPS and other satellite services will be “harmful” to existing satellites.

Communication Training
New Cadets in Delta Company go through communication training including radio etiquette, setting up an OE-254 antennae and how to assemble and program a radio. (Source: West Point – The U.S. Military Academy/Flickr)

However, the radio frequency bands authorized by the Federal Communications Commission “will not cause most commercially produced general navigation, timing, cellular, or certified aviation GPS receivers to experience harmful interference.” But, it is different when we talk about military-grade high-precision receivers “used for applications such as farming, geodesy, and surveying.” The report noted that these receivers would be vulnerable to interference. Mobile satellite services provided by Iridium Communications, Inc (network used by the DoD) will also experience adverse effects.

“The radio frequency spectrum is a natural resource that underpins all wireless activity, from mobile phones to GPS and satellite communications. The spectrum is divided into frequency bands, each allocated for specific services and managed in the United States by two agencies — the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.”

“While strict adherence to transmission and reception only within authorized frequency bands would provide protection against harmful interference, in practice transmitters do not have sharp cutoffs and may emit signals beyond their authorized frequencies, and receivers may pick up frequencies beyond their authorized range. Both of these factors can potentially contribute to interference that degrades performance or causes loss of operation.”

Congress mandated the report to be included in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act amid existing concerns around Ligado’s 5G network development, especially on systems that operate in L-band frequency at the range of 1-2 GHz.

“The findings from the [National Academies of Sciences] are consistent with the opposition from 14 federal agencies, more than 80 stakeholders and Iridium’s concerns that Ligado’s proposed operations will cause harmful interference,” Jordan Hassin, a spokesman for Iridium, said in an interview.

The FCC’s front door (Source: Rob Pegoraro/Flickr)

On the other hand, the report also includes a position on a collaborative approach to solving spectrum issues. They are recommending a joint study and testing to be done with the FCC and NTIA, covering “more definitive receiver performance standards, and the establishment of specific timespans where adherence to those standards will ensure successful operation are all important tools for the future of the sector.”

“Our technological capabilities in this space are constantly evolving, so spectrum real estate should be seen as a living asset that evolves alongside new technologies,” said J. Michael McQuade, strategic adviser to the president at Carnegie Mellon University and chair of the committee. “But to ensure stability, approaches must also allow for a degree of confidence that a deployed system will not be compromised, for a time, by harmful interference from new entrants.”

Meanwhile, Ligado spokeswoman Ashley Durmer confirms that they have a license and authorization to conduct operations that can “co-exist with GPS.”

“A small percentage of very old and poorly designed GPS devices may require upgrading,” Durmer said. “Ligado, in tandem with the FCC [Federal Communications Commission], established a program two years ago to upgrade or replace federal equipment, and we remain ready to help any agency that comes forward with outdated devices. So far, none have.”

Durmer added that they hope Pentagon would stop “blocking Ligado’s license authority and focus instead on working with Ligado to resolve potential impacts relating to all [Defense Department] systems, including but not limited to GPS.”