Thoughts on GPS/GNSS from the CGSIC Meeting Held Earlier this Week

August 17, 2012  - By

I attended the CGSIC (Civil GPS Service Interface Committee) State and Local Government subcommittee meeting in Seattle earlier this week. Following are some interesting observations you might be interested in.

The Civil GPS Service Interface Committee (CGSIC) was established to facilitate communication among civilian GPS users, identify civilian user community needs, and report to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Transportation. You are welcome to attend any of the CGSIC meetings. The U.S. state and local government subcommittee meeting moves around to different parts of the U.S. The next meeting is the annual CGSIC meeting that’s typically held the two days prior to the Institute of Navigation (ION) GNSS conference. This year it’s being held in Nashville, Tennessee.

You can view the agenda for this week’s meeting by clicking here.

Some take-away bullet point observations from this week:

1. GNSS receiver technology is moving much faster than GPS policymakers can keep up with. If the policymakers can keep the various GNSS from interfering with each other, can protect the spectrum used by GNSS, and do their best to mitigate jamming/interference (intentional and unintentional), they’ve done their job.

Rather than try to cage the GNSS animal, let it run wild and it will explore so many apps. Some will fail and many will succeed, but either way it’s a given that GNSS technology will contribute significantly to the world’s economy. With the introduction of the L5 civilian signal by the U.S. and Europeans, a new era of high-precision GNSS technology will emerge, along with countless new apps.

2. The NTIA (National Telcommunications and Information Administration), while seemingly our friend when they recommended to the FCC last February that LightSquared not be allowed to move forward, did so because they had no choice. Make no mistake; the NTIA is trying to figure out a way to execute President Obama’s National Broadband Plan (which includes finding 500 MHz of wireless spectrum for high-speed Internet), which may mean trying to draw a tight box around the GNSS spectrum, via receiver standards. On the other hand, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and RITA (Research and Innovative Technology Administration) are taking a different approach by developing a Spectrum Protection Plan. Which one will move faster? Likely the NTIA due to political pressure. While the LightSquared debate is seemingly on indefinite hold for now, the spectrum discussion is far from over. We might see draft proposal (for public comment) from the NTIA and FAA/RITA as soon as the end of this year, but could easily slip into 2013. Stay tuned.

3. With all the talk about illegal GPS jammers and “jammagedon,” as Gavin Schrock (PLS) jokingly coins it, it was reported at the CGSIC meeting that there’s been no increase in reported incidences of GPS jamming and has stayed at the “couple of events” per year level. People are still talking about the 2007 San Diego event and the Newark airport event as the major ones. Unless the DoD is keeping something from us, jamming (intentional or unintentional) hasn’t panned out like one might have thought. The FCC is certainly cracking down on the distribution of GPS jammers (and cell-phone jammers). It is illegal to manufacture, import, distribute, and use GPS jammers in the United States.

Not that jamming doesn’t occur and we shouldn’t be aware of it, but when your receiver isn’t working the way you think it should, jamming and solar activity shouldn’t be the first thoughts that cross your mind.

4. Of the 12 Block IIF GPS satellites being built, two are in orbit with the first being launched in 2010 and the second one last year. A third is scheduled to launch later this year. That equates to one launch per year. Clearly, this pace cannot continue or it would be the year 2022 before all twelve were in orbit. What’s the problem? Part of the problem is that the legacy Block IIA model satellites have performed so well. In fact, one has been operational for 22 years. That’s an incredible feat for a satellite that was designed with an expected life of 7.5 years. Unfortunately for the IIF program (and the high-precision user community), it means that congress can defer a few hundred million dollars per year by delaying the IIF launches. In these budget-conscious economic times, it’s not difficult to understand the reasoning that if there are 31 operational GPS satellites in orbit, why spend $150-200M to launch each GPS satellite when we don’t need it yet? But, that won’t last for long. The many legacy GPS satellites are one component failure away from being unusable. That said, the word at the CGSIC meeting is that three IIF satellites will be launched in 2013.

How important is the IIF satellite to the high-precision user community? It brings the new L5 civil GPS signal, which has huge implications on high-precision receiver performance and cost. Read here for more thoughts on L5.

If you looked at the meeting agenda, you can see that I was on the agenda to make a 20-minute presentation. During my presentation, one of the messages I wanted to be clear on is that GPS is not in competition with GLONASS, Compass/BeiDou, Galileo, or any other GNSS. The GPS user community needs the other GNSS to succeed and the GPS program needs the other GNSS to succeed just as much as the other GNSS rely on GPS. Other GNSS, along with GPS, clearly provide a better solution for the user community than any one of them used by itself.

I think it’s pretty clear, at this point in time, that the days of GPS-only receivers are numbered. Of course, they’ll still be around for a few years, but the trend is clear that even mobile phones are beginning to use GPS/GLONASS receivers.

If you’re interested, click below and you can view a PDF of my presentation.

Thanks, and see you next time.

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About the Author:

Eric Gakstatter has been involved in the GPS/GNSS industry for more than 20 years. For 10 years, he held several product management positions in the GPS/GNSS industry, managing the development of several medium- and high-precision GNSS products along with associated data-collection and post-processing software. Since 2000, he's been a power user of GPS/GNSS technology as well as consulted with capital management companies; federal, state and local government agencies; and private companies on the application and/or development of GPS technology. Since 2006, he's been a contributor to GPS World magazine, serving as editor of the monthly Survey Scene newsletter until 2015, and as editor of Geospatial Solutions monthly newsletter for GPS World's sister site Geospatial Solutions, which focuses on GIS and geospatial technologies.

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