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USA GPS at risk?

Raw Data World

USA GPS at risk? A very interesting article has just come up on Free Geography Tools about a new wireless broadband service which could disable the use of GPS across most of the USA.

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have approved a scheme proposed by a company called LightSquared which aims to provide satellite broadband across most of the USA. This seems great, and the service would be augmented by a network of terrestrial booster stations in and around urban areas. This would provide high speed connections in urban areas and 3G speed connections everywhere else. Sounds great, but there is a catch.

While the signal from the satellites would be pretty weak by the time it reaches Earth, the signal from the terrestrial booster stations would be very strong. Unfortunately this terrestrial signal would interfere with GPS receivers. The closer a GPS receiver is to a terrestrial station, the more pronounced the effect with the worst case being a total loss of fix with GPS satellites.

The Free Geography Tools article goes into much more detail about the hows and whys of this interference but some major GPS receiver manufactures are pretty worried. The FCC has stated that LightSquared must work with the GPS sector but it seems that a fix would be difficult to achieve without modifying every single GPS receiver unit. Given the sheer number of GPS units in cars, planes and phones, this task would be huge and costly.

We will have to wait and see what the report concludes but the article is well worth a read as such a problem is not just restricted to the USA, but could occur in any country that is trying to implement a large scale wireless broadband network.

Picture courtesy of Flickr: sonnyandsandy.

Date February 8, 2011
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