Test solutions by Spirent Communications plc have been used to improve maritime safety.
Working with the Radio Technical Committee for Maritime Services (RTCM), Spirent has created test scenarios that simulate realistic satellite reception conditions at sea so that GPS distress beacon performance can be improved, allowing users to be rescued faster by search and rescue organizations.
One of the first customers to use these scenarios to test its locator beacons is ACR Electronics Inc., a manufacturer of emergency lifesaving equipment. Its latest ACR and ARTEX products have been tested using a Spirent signal simulator, and have been certified as meeting the RTCM standards for cold-start time-to-first-fix, which specifies the time taken by a device when it is turned on to capture GPS signals and determine its location.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has now mandated that in future, any new products in the related categories must be tested using a GNSS simulator and the scenarios in the RTCM standards, which were developed by Spirent.
“We are able to test the performance of our dual-frequency GPS/Galileo receivers using a Spirent simulator that can accurately simulate signals from different constellations to enhance the performance of our Emergency Position Indicating Radio beacons (EPIRBs, PLBs and ELTs),” said Bill Cox, Director of Engineering at ACR. “Our customers will soon be able to take advantage of a new confirmation system that will let them know that their call for help was heard.”
“We are very pleased to have worked with RTCM and ACR to improve maritime safety”, said Martin Foulger, General Manager of Spirent’s Positioning Business Unit. “This project shows the importance of testing in realistic conditions to give better end-user experience, which in this case could be a matter of life or death. This will make lifesaving equipment more reliable both for maritime users and search and rescue agencies.”
The RCTM discovered that Cospas-Sarsat 406MHz beacons with integral GPS receivers suffered from poor cold start performance, causing delays in providing accurate location information to Search and Rescue (SAR) authorities. It later discovered that this was because beacons tended to be tested on land in benign conditions, rather than in real-world oceanic conditions.
It has addressed the issue by specifying a set of performance standards for Emergency Position Indicating Beacons (EPIRBs), Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs), Hand-held VHF Radios with integral GPS Receivers, Manoverboard (MOB) devices and Satellite Emergency Notification Devices (SENDs).
Spirent was asked to develop a set of custom test scenarios that enable manufacturers to simulate realistic satellite reception conditions at sea in laboratory environments. Use of these scenarios enables manufacturers to better assess the performance of their products in the real world.
Details of the FCC mandate can be found in the Federal Register, Vol. 81, No. 241, Dec. 15, 2016, Page 90739, FCC 47 CFR Parts 1, 25, 80 and 95.