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Fight Over Ligado’s Allegedly GPS-Endangering 5G System Heats Up

General aviation is united for a battle against Ligado after it got the FCC’s approval on its application for creating a new wireless network that dozens of experts are saying will endanger GPS.

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After the FCC quietly approved the application by Ligado Networks to use a dicey slice of the radio frequency spectrum for its 5G network, a move that aviation insiders contend would endanger the reliability, accuracy and availability of GPS satellite navigation, even more aviation organizations and companies have come forward to raise concerns. In our story on the subject last month, we pointed out those concerns.

Last month, U.S. Senator James Inhofe (R, OK) went on record in opposition to the move, calling out both Ligado and the Federal Communications Commission for the hasty approval of the application. As we reported, in a statement, Inhofe said, “Simply put, the FCC is jeopardizing GPS signals that Americans rely on every day—that support both our national and economic security—for the benefit of just one company and its hedge fund investors.”

More than a decade ago, another tech company, the now-defunct LightSquared, made a similar proposal for a terrestrial network for mobile communications on the same slice of the spectrum. Thankfully, that application, due to a united front of stakeholders in opposition to it, was denied. The DoD is again against the plan and the FCC’s approval of it.

In this case the DoD is again at the fore in voicing its concerns over Ligado’s planned use of the spectrum, which it intends to use for supporting the Internet of things, among other communications and data uses.

The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) has been out front of the debate since the new company formed to promote the old LightSquared plan and is now focusing on Ligado’s downplaying of expert concern over the system. NBAA’s Director for Air Traffic Services and Infrastructure Heidi Williams said, “We continue to emphasize that all parties in the nation’s aviation system, including general aviation, rely heavily on GPS – more than just a decade ago – and we must challenge even the slightest compromise to the safety of GPS communications. It is unfortunate that with its latest filing, Ligado has chosen to simply overlook the legitimate concerns about the company’s plans, instead of drawing from our coalition’s expertise to ensure the continued safety and integrity of operations in the nation’s airspace.”

Ligado, according to Politico, has three former House committee chairs on its payroll, including Bill Shuster, former Pennsylvania Republican congressman who for years pushed, unsuccessfully, for users fees that would overwhelmingly benefit the airline over GA users. Now, Shuster is putting his influence to work on the Hill and the Pentagon, looking to influence Ligado detractors from private industry groups, the DoD, and DoT that the plan should proceed now that the FCC has approved the application.

The good news for GPS users is the fight is far from over even after the FCC approval.


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