Monthly Archives: May 2012
After various lenders, including Harbinger Capital, pumped over $4 billion of both equity and debt into LightSquared, Phil Falcone has agreed to hand over the reins to investor Carl Icahn. But what is the telecommunication company’s radio spectrum really worth? That depends on who you ask. Some believe it is worth upwards of $120 billion, while others believe it is worth absolutely nothing.
Falcone worked hard to quiet the GPS industry when they protested his satellite would interfere with the normal operation of GPS devices all over the world making them essentially useless, stating it was the fault of GPS manufacturers who needed to simply install a special filter guarding against this interference. TheFCC sided with the GPS industry and LightSquared’s waiver to begin service was denied in February.
All of the investors, including Icahn, who purchased LightSquared shares at 40 cents on the dollar were able to bring about the change in leadership, forcing Falcone to step down. However, can Icahn do any better? Coleman Bazelon, economist with the Brattle Group, a consulting firm in Washington, weighed in. He is the perfect candidate as he helped the US government calculate proceeds during the 1990′s spectrum auctions during his six years with the Congressional Budget Office.
Bazelon believes in LightSquared’s goal of making available more of the spectrum for telecommunications networks, and has even done some consulting for LightSquared in the past. However, he points out that it’s difficult to put a value on LightSquared’s spectrum as it “depends entirely upon what your view of what the GPS community can do.”
Going strictly by the numbers, with LightSquared controlling 46 megahertz of theoretical spectrum that is available to 300 million North American customers, that’s about $14 billion based on the current value of $1 per megaherz. That’s right on track with the $4 billion Falcone raised for LightSquared, and the reason he spent $1 billion for two Boeing 702HP satellites complete with 66-foot antennas.
However, politics often gets in the way, especially if you are talking about the radio spectrum. Even if the FCC approves, someone is there to say “Not so fast.” Ask Nextel, who thought nothing of buying up rarely used frequencies back in the 1990s commonly used for pagers. The fire and police departments noticed their radios were unable to filter out the stronger signals from the cell phone towers, and Nextel had to give up some of the frequencies they had just paid for and at the same time pay out billions to switch to a spectrum further away.
Bazelon believes that all of the current problems with GPS are able to be corrected, but doesn’t think LightSquared’s creditors are willing to wait patiently until it happens. He estimates LightSquared’s spectrum is worth at a minimum of $12 billion to its owner, and $120 billion to consumers after using the common rule dictating consumer value is 10 times the wholesale cost.
A suggested solution: the FCC claims the LightSquared frequencies until the GPS interference kinks are worked out. Just like any device, the GPS device only works for so long until it is in need of replacement. More expensive GPS devices built directly into machinery such as airplanes and tractors could likely be fixed for much less than the cost of replacing it entirely.
If this were to happen, it would only compound the problem. The FCC can’t just take the frequencies away, it has to trade its spectrum with other spectrum. This is not possible, as the only available frequencies are due to go to auction in the future, and giving them to LightSquared would lead to a loss of revenue for projected federal budgets.
It is imagined Icahn and investors are contemplating selling the spectrum to another cellular provider, but this could still lead to the spectrum swap problem. The GPS industry would now be lobbying with smaller cell phone providers against the spectrum falling into the hands of AT&T or Verizon.
The FCC initially granted a license in 2004 for the construction of a ground- and satellite-based network. When these frequencies were due to be transferred to LightSquared, the FCC laid out the requirement of 145 million potential customers by 2013 and 260 million by 2015. It wasn’t until LightSquared asked for a waiver which would allow wholesale customers to sell handsets lacking satellite capability that the GPS industry cried foul and spoke out against LightSquared.
The goal of LightSquared was to obtain parts of the spectrum owned by lower-value users in an effort to avoid raising wireless rates “Without radically changing the amount of capital you spend you can’t meet the expected demand, said Bazelon. “But that projected demand isn’t going to materialize if you raise wireless rates.”
“The amount of money needed to convince TV broadcasters to leave their 201 megaherz of spectrum is probably $15-$20 billion, but it’s worth at least two times that to the cellular industry. As long as cost of making spectrum available is less than the value to wireless companies, you should be making it available to them.”
One of these days, probably years down the road, the value in the frequencies Falcone acquired from failed satellite communication ventures will be realized. When that day will be and who will own the frequencies are the only questions.
A common phrase uttered when someone asks “Do you need directions?” used to be “That’s ok, I’ll just Mapquest it.” Now, with so many GPS devices and apps on the market, it has almost become a thing of the past. Gone are the days of handwritten directions, or ancient maps almost impossible to fold up to glove box size after you’ve unfolded it. It looks like the GPS device itself might become a thing of the past after the surge of free apps for smartphone users. But the downside: with so many GPS navigational apps on the market, how do you know which is worth the storage space on your smartphone?
Yes, iPhone comes with its own GPS app already installed out of the box, but many dislike the fact it doesn’t talk. Some Android phones come with a talking app, but some find it too simplistic. You really need an app that talks as looking down at a street map can be quite dangerous while driving, and Mapquest has released a new app that guides you by voice while at the same time pronouncing street names correctly (my father’s GPS device in his car can’t even do this) for your Android, iPhone, or Blackberry.
Coupon blogger Heather Tenney was given the opportunity to test the app since last July, and test it she did, taking it along during long family road trips. She fell in love with it, especially the fact it acted just like a $300 GPS device: “It tells me to turn in 50 feet, it says the famous ‘recalculating,’ it gets you where you need to go the same as a regular GPS unit would.”
She did point out some downsides, as have other reviewers. The most obvious downfall (and you don’t even need to download the app to figure this one out on your own): the screen is small. Remember, you are using your phone, and if you don’t have a dashboard mount for it, it is almost impossible to see the map. Holding your phone while you are driving and glancing at the map periodically can be dangerous, and shouldn’t be attempted.
Another downside you may not realize is that the whole time you are using the app, you are using a significant portion of your data plan. Tenney said, “You want to make sure if you are going to use any GPS app you are going to have a good data plan, because it eats through data.” Also remember that if you drive through a dead zone (no signal), your route will cease to update itself. GPS devices like Tom Tom and Garmin operate using satellite signal rather than cell phone towers, making them ideal for long distance navigation.
So back to the main issue of whether or not a free app can be as effective as a physical GPS device. If you are just taking a quick trip to visit a friend’s new house or wonder where that new restaurant is in town, the free app will do just fine. However, if you are traveling across the country or even a few states away, you might consider picking up a GPS device made exclusively for this purpose. That is, unless you have a truly unlimited data plan and trust that your service will not be interrupted for the duration of the trip. Otherwise, you just might end up missing an exit or four, ending up a hundred miles west of your destination.
No one, not even Steve Jobs, could have foreseen the rapidity and ubiquity with which smart phones have been assimilated into our culture. First it was the refrigerator. Then, it was the microwave. After that, the personal computer. Now, the smart phone has become the new essential tool for American life, a technological wonder that has made powerful mobile computing a reality.
With new technology in demand comes new requirements. Battery life is an obstacle that many manufacturers, even Apple, have yet to overcome in a way that pleases most consumers. Another consumer demand is GPS functionality. Consumers want navigation. They want social media GPS features. They want it small, and they want it to work. Component manufacturers like RDA Microelectronics are helping to move mobile GPS forward, with RDA recently began sampling a new high-gain, low noise amplifier called the RDALN16.
Smaller Semiconductors Means More Functional Phones
The trick is packing it all in there. When the iPhone, the original progenitor of the smart phone craze, came along, the idea was to hybridize a cell phone and computer in a pack-of-cigarettes sized package. Mission accomplished. Now, however, constantly evolving technology has made GPS, once thought of by many as an ancillary feature, more difficult to integrate successfully into a phone. GPS signals are typically weaker in cell phones than in dedicated GPS devices. The cell phone case itself has been known to block and weaken signals that a standard GPS would have no trouble receiving. In addition, the size of the GPS component of the phone is always an issue, especially on a device that has to pack so much functionality into such a small package.
Innovation Means Customer Satisfaction
So here’s the chain of thought here: smaller signal amplifiers mean smaller GPS devices. Smaller GPS devices mean either smaller phones or phones with more room for cool gadgetry. RDA hopes to facilitate both, all with an amplifier that provides stunning functionality for mobile GPS.
Mobile GPS Becoming Integrated Into Our Lives?
The demand for mobile GPS indicates that GPS tracking technology is becoming more an integral part of our lives than ever. Easy to track, easy to find, easy to share, easy to communicate: smart phones with GPS are changing the way we interact as human beings.
To many consumers, a GPS simply means a navigation system. Global positioning satellites somehow log into your car, determine your location, and tell you how to get to your Aunt’s house in Spanoway. Consumer applications for GPS devices have been expanding of late, especially when it comes to location based social networking. As such, GPS manufacturers—especially in the smart phone arena—are looking for new sawas to synchronize satellite signals with local WiFi signals and crowd-sourced data to seamlessly determine location, whether a GPS connection is available or not. Now, innovators are piloting a unique way to leverage GPS technology: as an earthquake alarm.
The Japan Earthquake
Nobody saw it coming: the massive 8.9 magnitude earthquake that occurred off the coast of Japan in March 2011. The damage, death toll, ensuing nuclear crisis, and emotional cost the nation faced was severe. Analysts noticed something, however, as the crisis unfolded: GPS stations all over Japan detected the seismic waves as they traveled through the nation. It took seven minutes for those waves to travel through the country. Analysts saw an opportunity to institute a GPS based seismic detection network in southern California that might make earthquake warnings more prescient.
Faster Reaction Times
It began at NASA. The organization’s jet propulsion laboratory has created a prototype GPS network across California, Oregon and Washington. The network is designed to alert first responder teams in the event an earthquake takes place. Will the network detect earthquakes before they happen? No: they can only analyze seismic data as it unfolds. However, the network would send alerts to areas that may expect seismic activity as the waves expand from the earthquake’s epicenter. The result may be a valuable early warning system for first responders around the nation and especially in the earthquake prone Southwest.
Is There an App for That?
NASA’s pilot program is just that: a prototype. The data is sent to first responders only at this time. However, the potential is there for earthquake emergency warning data to be sent straight to smart phones around the nation in the event of an earthquake. While that warning may only come sixty seconds before the earthquake hits, the warning may be extremely valuable in allowing individuals to seek and obtain cover before the worst occurs.
Getting your driver’s license for the first time is an exciting event. Driving away from the house alone for the first time is also exciting, and feels like a big step toward becoming an independent adult. But some teens might not get exactly the same exhilaration that earlier generations enjoyed if their parents choose to install the iTeen365 on their family car.
The iTeen365 is a GPS device built by a Chicago company that is already established as a producer of tracking equipment for commercial fleets. The company is now bringing the accountability of GPS to beginning drivers, allowing parents to be a “fly on the wall” of their car while their teens are driving. The tracker installs on the dashboard of the car, and it has one feature that rather obviously questions the honesty of teen drivers in general: it is tamper-proof! There’s no temptation for drivers to turn the device off, remove it from the car, or otherwise send a false message about just how they are driving.
Parents at home can view past and current locations of the GPS device online and find out how fast it has been moving. The basic concept of the iTeen365, backed up by extensive research, is that a beginning driver is statistically more likely to follow safe driving practices if he knows an adult is monitoring his activity. Until now, parents had no way of really knowing how their kids were driving on their own, short of actually following them. A teen who gets in the car and knows that his parents are probably checking his driving statistics every hour or so will hopefully drive as if an adult were in the passenger seat next to him.
You might already be able to predict the most common reactions to the release of this GPS device: Parents are excited about being able to more closely guide their teens as they develop their own driving habits, while young drivers object to the “lack of trust” that installing such a tracker indicates. Objectively, it seems that this kind of accountability will definitely reduce the number of accidents, speeding fines, and loss of driving privileges that teens face. Monthly service for the iTeen365 costs $34.95, plus the cost of the device itself and initial setup.
Over the last several years, GPS technology has permeated just about every conceivable industry. What started out as military tech, is now used to track criminals, suspects, children, elderly parents, wildlife, and valuable merchandise. GPS technology is used for recreational hiking, elaborate scavenger hunting, and personal navigation. Among the ever-growing uses for this technology is cutting business expenses. One of the ways GPS technology can help cut costs, is allowing better, more precise route planning for delivery services, buses, and even tractors.
“You can do a straight line a whole lot easier,” explains Brad Eustace, a farmer in Washington, D.C.. Although he still mans his tractor, it is programmed with GPS technology to carefully trace his fields for tilling. Once tilled, hoses deliver precise amounts of fertilizer into the grooves he just laid out. This way, when farmer Jimmy Messick returns after several days, the field is ready for his GPS-equipped corn planter. “The seed goes right on top of this row. This tilled row,” he said. “The corn planter will come back, and it will be putting the seeds exactly on top of these tilled strips that the machine previously has put the fertilizer in.”
“You’re able to use less,” explained Messick. “Of course, you’re saving money. And you get the same performance out of the crop.” These farmers were able to cut their fertilizer usage in half, simply by implementing GPS technology to their equipment. “If we get better at applying only what’s needed, where they’re needed, then that’s less nutrients that can move off and get into water systems and watersheds,” said Tim Mize, farming expert at Virginia Tech University. “Anytime you can reduce inputs and increase your bottom line, that’s technology that everybody wants,” he said.
After a disturbing turn of events, Scotland is considering following in Australia’s footsteps in attaching GPS tracking devices to its high risk sex offenders. Only a few days after being released from prison, Ryan Yates attempted to murder a grandmother in order to victimize her young grandchildren. Fortunately, the 60-year-old woman was able to fend off Yates while the children escaped, despite being stabbed by the attacker. The event has cast a critical eye on the police and other public bodies, responsible for monitoring Yates after his release from prison.
“Scotland has one of the most robust systems for managing sex offenders anywhere in the world and the monitoring of such offenders is now tougher than ever before. However, if processes can be improved and strengthened further, our law enforcement agencies and the Scottish Government will take action, which is why we brought in the new disclosure scheme allowing parents the right to know if a convicted sex offender is living in their community,” explained Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill.
“The Scottish Government is determined to take every opportunity of building on and strengthening the steps already taken to protect our communities from sex offenders,” MacAskill concluded. Yates was taken back to jail and sentenced for a minimum of ten years. GPS tracking devices aren’t fail-proof, but they do allow probation officers to have a better idea of the movements and whereabouts of a released convict. Geofences, or boundaries, can be set around schools and other places children populate to alert police if a high-risk offender is nearby.
“As is highlighted within the report, responsibility for what occurred on October 14, 2009, rests with the offender and only the offender. Clearly each of the members of the group has a responsibility to ensure that the public is protected as much as is possible. However, it is simply not possible to monitor an individual’s movements at all times, particularly in cases such as this where an offender is determined to commit further crimes after being released back into the community,” explained Tom Cowan, Northern Community Justice Authority.
US v. Jones rocked the world of law enforcement, sending many offices including the FBI back to square one on many cases of GPS surveillance that lacked a warrant granting the right for this intrusion into the private lives of many suspected criminals. It was the unanimous agreement that any surveillance period using a GPS tracking device takes away an individual’s expectation of privacy when going about their day-to-day activities. After any landmark Supreme Court decision such as this more issues are typically brought before the court relating to it, and some wonder if the court will soon address the issue of GPS tracking devices used in the workplace to keep track of the whereabouts of employees.
Using the Jones case as a guideline, global law firm Proskauer predicts GPS in the workplace will soon come before the Supreme Court, mostly because of the privacy issues addressed in the Jones case. Justice Scalia raised the issue of trespass once a device is placed on a suspect’s vehicle, and this could possibly lead to the decision that GPS devices are not allowed on employees personal vehicle.
In the months leading up to the Jones decision, a New York court decided that affixing a GPS device to the personal vehicle of a government employee in attempts to prove misconduct during business hours was in fact legal. A New Jersey court decided in the case of a private investigator being monitored via GPS in his own personal vehicle that the employer had not violated his right to privacy as he “did not allege travel to any secluded or private areas where there might be an expectation of privacy.”
Back to the Jones case, where Justices Sotomayor and Alito pointed out that the length of time the GPS tracking device was used goes too far with respect to the Fourth Amendment, which addresses an individual’s right to privacy. Jones was monitored for four weeks, and Sotomayor felt this would make investigators privy to a host of irrelevant information, including political, religious, familial, professional, and even sexual associations.
The states of California and Texas have laws currently in place making the installation of GPS tracking devices illegal without the consent of the vehicle’s owner. However, this does not apply to employer-owned vehicles. Only a few courts have faced cases dealing with the monitoring of employees using GPS. A federal court in Missouri permitted the use of a GPS tracking device on a company car back in 2005, stating it was in fact not at all an invasion of privacy. The employer owns the car, and as such should be able to install whatever they wish, including a GPS device to monitor the employee that happens to be driving it. Usually this is done because there is suspected misconduct, like reports of an employee taking care of personal business on company time or not showing up where the employee is supposed to at the scheduled time.
Regardless of whether or not a company chooses to track their employees, it all comes down to how they go about it. It is this author’s opinion that personal vehicles be kept out of the discussion altogether, leaving only company vehicles as an option for the installation of GPS devices. It shouldn’t matter where that person goes in their own car. At the same time, there should be rules put in place addressing the practice of GPS monitoring of employees in company cars, such as making them aware they are being tracked. It is expected that this will be brought before the Supreme Court at some point in the near future, and you can count on RMT to keep you up to date throughout the process.
How do you feel about the use of GPS tracking devices in the workplace?
Once used only to track released sex offenders under Jessica’s Law, California counties are now looking at and implementing early release programs based on GPS technology for other nonviolent criminals. Inmates are being fitted with tracking devices and monitored by probation officers through a laptop and Google Earth maps, thus reducing prison overcrowding and cost.
In October 2011, California passed realignment legislature that allows the state to delegate nonviolent criminals formerly under its jurisdiction to county jails. Though there are no direct transfers, new offenders receiving a sentence or finishing out a sentence, can be assigned to the county. Because of the influx of inmates, officials are seeking solutions to lessen the burdens of prisons filled beyond capacity.
Kings County, for example, is dealing with the problems brought on by a prison house made for 361 filled to 440. It has recently outfitted 80 inmates with GPS tracking ankle bracelets through an early release program, though officials do warn that such programs are not an end-all solution to the problem of overcrowding. Some prisoners simply need to stay behind bars. Kings County plans to increase its early release program until a new state-funded prison is built in 2015. They will use a private company to monitor the inmates for a cost of $4.25 a day per person. Compare this to $55 a day to keep a prisoner in jail.
Fresno County also plans to launch an early release program for low-risk inmates to include 50 individuals initially. GPS tracking devices would be placed before and after sentencing to reduce the prison population. Like Kings County, Fresno County plans to use a private company to monitor its inmates, which will cost about $70 less a day per person than keeping that same person in prison.
Though there are those who oppose GPS tracking for its seeming infringement on a person’s rights, those selected to be monitored see the program as freeing and definitely better than sitting in a jail cell. They can live at home and go to work; they can even go to the grocery store and other places approved by the probation officer. But if a GPS-enabled ankle bracelet is cut off or the set perimeters are violated, the monitoring system sends an automatic notification to the authorities so that the one under house arrest can be quickly apprehended.
GPS tracking may not be an end-all solution, but it certainly goes a long way toward helping authorities reduce overcrowding and cost in their prison systems.
Few segments of the GPS industry receive more analytical attention than fleet management. One of the key benefits of GPS technology as it applies to fleets is the ability to monitor vehicle use (and perhaps abuse), conformity to highway regulations, vehicles that may or may not be in emergency situations, and more. One huge hurdle when it comes to implementing GPS tracking technology is the question of reliability. How do you pinpoint the true accuracy of a GPS device, especially when you are trying to manage a fleet that may contain dozens, even hundreds of vehicles?
A New GPS Accuracy Measurement System
The answer may come from San Francisco, from a company called SpeedGauge. The corporation centers its practice on analysis and review for both auto insurance and transportation industries. As such, they’re the perfect company to take on the question of GPS accuracy. SpeedGauge has just released a new technology platform called SpeedGaugeAssurance designed to collect data from GPS devices on the field and measure their effectiveness and accuracy.
The Question of Installation
Many fleet managers don’t have the time, resources, or understanding of GPS technology to carefully review the function of a GPS device. One of two things typically occurs when a GPS device is discovered to be inaccurate: either the device itself is replaced, or the vehicle is no longer monitored. In both cases, the company’s financial and labor investment in that GPS device is lost. What many fleet managers and operators do not know is that, typically, GPS inaccuracy most often results from improper installation of the device, not the device itself. This means that countless GPS devices may have been tossed in the garbage and written off when simple correction of an installation error may have recovered the device to full functionality.
Money Saving GPS Device Review
The SpeedGaugeAssurance platform hopes to change that. By monitoring GPS accuracy in an unobtrusive manner from within the device, fleet managers will find out not only if the device is inaccurate, but may have a plan of action once the device’s installation is discovered to be faulty. In that manner, fleets have the opportunity to salvage GPS devices, potentially saving thousands of dollars annually. SpeedGauge functions on thousands of commercially owned vehicles across three continents.