LightSquared, Inc, based in Reston Virginia, filed for bankruptcy May 14th in Federal Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan. Listing assets of $4.48 billion and debt of $2.29 billion as of Feb. 29, LightSquared says it intends to use bankruptcy protection to continue in its quest to build out a 4G wireless network. Its plan has been to utilize satellite spectrum for terrestrial signals, but has been fervently opposed by users of satellite GPS systems.
LightSquared purchased a satellite company in order to obtain the license for specific frequencies of the radio spectrum which are adjacent to those used by the satellites that provide the signals for millions of GPS devices in North America. They petitioned the Federal Communications Commission for permission to use the frequencies under license, and were nearly able to achieve this goal. GPS manufacturers and user groups were alarmed and a groundswell of opposition caused the FCC to reconsider the application. The Coalition to Save Our GPS was formed to oppose the petition.
Studies were conducted which showed that significant interference would occur with the new network. The signal strength of GPS signals is extremely weak compared to the power levels that a terrestrial 4G network would use, and there was a very high probability that it would drown out the GPS signals in many areas. Congress became involved, and legislated that the FCC could not grant the application unless LightSquared could prove that it was not going to cause problems with GPS. Subsequently, the FCC denied the petitions.
Apparently, the battle has not yet ended. With bankruptcy protection, LightSquared may eventually prevail, unless GPS users and manufacturers remain steadfast and vigilant. Nerds in the Wood supports the Coalition to Save Our GPS and urges everyone to investigate the issue for themselves.
National Geographic announced a new app for iPhone, now available on the iTunes Store, “National Parks by National Geographic.” The new app provides a variety of information on each of the 20 most popular US National Parks, with support for more parks upcoming. The release was timed to coincide with National Parks Week, which runs April 21 through April 29. During National Parks Week, admission at all of the 397 National Parks is free.
The App is free with basic content, and there are plans for premium content for in-app purchase. Information will include general park information, park rules, hours, contacts and weather information. Photographs from National Geographic’s library and user submissions will be added to show the most interesting attractions. Detailed maps will help users locate points of interest based on activity type and season, get directions and add them to a customized itinerary or list of favorites. At first, the app will provide guidance for the 20 most popular parks. More parks will be added as time goes on. A separate package, “National Park Maps HD” for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, features trail maps for the top 20 U.S. parks.
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In possibly the biggest news of the day for GPS users, the FCC has finally decided not to allow LightSquared Communications, Inc., to utilize low-power frequencies previously intended for satellite signals to be used for a terrestrial broadband network. After over a year of review, it was concluded that LightSquared could not operate its networks at the specific spectrum frequencies without causing significant interference with low-power signals from GPS satellites.
This comes after several years of efforts by LightSquared to create a broadband network in a section of the radio frequency spectrum that is licensed for satellites. LightSquared purchased a dieing company which had licensed those frequencies, and proposed to re-purpose the spectrum using a section of FCC regulations which allow repeaters to rebroadcast the satellite signals at higher power in dense urban areas.
It appeared that the FCC was going to go along with the plan, but public outcry over the possibility that GPS signals would be adversely affected, since GPS frequencies are quite close to the section of the spectrum reserved for GPS. The power levels proposed for LightSquared’s broadband service would be vastly stronger than GPS, and thus would pose a significant threat to the existing base of installed GPS devices.
A coalition of GPS manufacturers and users was formed, with the purpose of protecting access to GPS frequencies for exiting users. LightSquared had proposed that GPS manufacturers should be able to overcome any interference. Congressional intervention occurred several weeks ago, requiring the FCC not to allow the network to operate unless they could guarantee that no adverse effects would occur to Department of Defence assets, and since no guarantee can be made, the FCC has rejected the petition.
We congratulate the Coalition to Save Our GPS on their success in protecting the investments of all of us in our expensive GPS devices. Thanks to thehill.com for breaking this story.
Magellan has joined the fitness GPS market with a new wristwatch GPS unit called Switch. It comes in two models, a basic model which features large-character display, high sensitivity, and the ability to track a large range of fitness activities on an 8-hour battery life. The advanced unit adds a barometric altimeter and thermometer for outdoor temperature measurements. Both models have ANT wireless technology for connecting to Magellan and third-party heart-rate sensors, and are capable of interfacing with popular fitness websites like MapMyFitness, TrainingPeaks, and Strava. And they are water resistant.
Garmin has been active in the fitness GP market for some time with its ForeRunner series, and also with their own fitness website, Garmin connect. Magellan will offer some competition to the market leader, just as they have with their recreational GPS devices and their automotive offerings.
National Geographic Software and AllTrails have announced a new partnership. National Geographic Software is discontinuing its TOPO Explorer website and topographical map service at topo.com, and migrating its content to AllTrails. The change is taking place immediately, and is evident when you visit AllTrails.com website. National Geographic will shut down the TOPO Explorer service after thirty days. After that, users who type in topo.com will be redirected to AllTrails.
Topo Explorer was conceived several years ag0 as a replacement for the TOPO State series map software packages. The map formats were updated and enhanced to combine topographical map data and satellite photography in a file called a SuperQuad, which could be purchased through an online map store. Current users will be able to archive the SuperQuad maps that they already purchased by downloading them to their hard drives using the TOPO Explorer software, in Superquad or PDF formats. They will need to exhaust any map credits that they may have not used before the end of the thirty-day period. It is not clear what will happen to map credits that remain unused beyond that time. Also, the software for TOPO Explorer will still function, but will not be supported with future updates.
AllTrails.com is a fairly new website, founded in 2010, which provides trail information, maps, and options for social networking. It is membership-based, and provides users with the ability to locate nearby destinations according to the activities which they are interested in, and to add user ratings, reviews and photographs of their favorite places. The AllTrails database provides information on a variety of outdoor activities and is supported by apps for Android and iPhone.
A new device from DeLorme offers two way text messaging from just about anywhere in the world. The inReach is a satellite messenger anong the lines of the Spot Satellite Communicator, and uses the Iridium satellite phone network to relay incoming and outgoing text messages. The main difference with the Spot is the ability to recieve messages and get confirmation for sent messages.
While the inReach can be used as a stand-alone device, full functionality requires either a DeLorme PN-60w GPS or a Bluetooth-enabled Android Smartphone. The Android app is free and offers free downloads of DeLorme TOPO North America map images. The message service requires a subscription and a commitment for one year of service. Subscription prices start at around 10 dollars monthly for the most basic plan, and about 25 or 50 dollars for the more extensive plans. A fee of around 12 dollars is required to establish service. The inReach can also send track points of your location at preselected time intervals of ten minutes or more, if you buy one of the more expensive plans. It will also allow you to post your location and other messages to Facebook and Twitter.
DeLorme’s inReach promises to be one of the best new products for hikers and other outdoor types, especially in this age of social networking. It also offers some security and peace of mind when you are out in the wood. At 249 dollars, plus 12 dollars for a subscription, plus 250 a year for the Recreation package, it is not really a bargain, but considering the benefits, it can be very handy. It becomes available directly from DeLorme in mid-October of 2011, www.delorme.com.
Garmin, the leader in recreational GPS products, has announced a slew of new and revamped GPS products for outdoors enthusiasts. The new lineup includes a new touch-screen unit, and several redesigned versions of some of their popular older products.
The new Montana series is a touch-screen handheld unit similar to the Oregon line, with an optional 5-megapixel camera. It features a four-inch screen with a vertical and horizontal orientation. It supports wireless data sharing with other Garmin devices, and micro-SD memory expansion. There is also a new version of the eTrex line, with 3 models: the 10, with a monochrome display, and the 20 and 30, with color and expandable memory.
To round out the revamped product line, Garmin is introducing 2 new 62 series models, the sc and the sct, which include a 5-megapixel camera. There is also a new version of the RINO, which is basically the 62 which has a built-in 2-way radio, and a new Astro, which is the unique dog-tracking system. These 3 new products all support the same wireless data sharing as the Montana and many older Garmin models.
The new line makes for some exciting potential, since the newer units have superior battery life and GPS signal retention compared to their older products, and are somewhat smaller and lighter, but no less durable. For more information, visit Garmin’s website.
Pentax has introduced the Optio WG-1 GPS Camera, a rugged 14-megapixel camera with a GPS built in. It is waterproof, weatherproof, and freezeproof, and features a 4x optical zoom and a carabiner attachment. Retail is around 400 dollars. Check out the manufacturer’s website for details.
Garmin, the GPS manufacturer is sponsoring a new website for geocaching called opencaching at www.opencaching.com. It features searching for caches by landmark, city name or ZIP code. Member logins are integrated with garmin.com logins automatically. Users can query by location, log their finds and create caches themselves, and membership is free. Opencaching joins a handful of geocaching sites, but garmin backing will certainly help it gain market acceptance. It is still in beta,so improvements will be needed, but at this time it is fully functional. Check it out at the link above.