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Why your phone’s GPS desperately needs a huge overhaul

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the most modern technology, including smartphone, runs on GPS. But systems can be more vulnerable to failure than you think. The US lacks backup location technology, so outages and interference can be devastating.Russia threatens to destroy GPS Dallas Airport has been temporarily closed due to satellite and recent GPS signal failures.

Thankfully, companies are stepping up to protect their GPS. NextNav recently struck a deal to use its existing LTE and 5G networks to provide a new technology called TerraPoiNT that acts as a backup for GPS. “TerraPoiNT’s signal is over 100,000 times stronger than his GPS, and signal encryption makes it more resistant to jamming and spoofing,” NextNav CEO Ganesh Pattabiraman said in his Digital Trends report. said in an interview. This is an interesting statistic and a glimpse into how GPS can (and should) be protected.

Why GPS is so important and so fragile

Display GPS map data from Apple Watch Ultra and Apple Watch Series 8 on iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone SE 2022. Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

GPS provides positioning, navigation, timing services, and mobile phone location services. Its widespread availability makes it a vital global utility for industries and infrastructure, from power grids to 911 emergency services to financial transactions. However, Pattabiraman said the system is “incredibly vulnerable” to interference, including jamming and spoofing.

Sam Brown, a professional radio engineer who runs the radio frequency blog at One SDRMoresaid in an interview that GPS communication receivers are often jammed using jammers that are easy to obtain and inexpensive.

“The jammer emits a signal that jams the reception of the signal, resulting in the GPS receiver being unable to provide location information,” he added.

A recent example is GPS signal issues led to flight suspension At Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. The problem was traced to a mysterious source of interference and the airport was closed for two days.

Photo of Newark Airport in the early morning.
Joe Mulling/Digital Trends

Potential foreign interference is another matter.Russia boasts that it can take Satellites that provide GPS.

“Incidents such as massive solar flares and damage to commercial satellites could potentially disrupt many critical services that we rely on every day,” said Pattabiraman. “Therefore, the U.S. federal government recognizes the importance of implementing alternative technologies to PNT to ensure GPS resilience, including: “Identifying and promoting responsible use of PNT services; There is a presidential order that calls on the public and private sectors to

Alex Damato, deputy executive director of the GPS Innovation Alliance, an industry group, said in an interview that his organization remains technology-neutral when it comes to backing up GPS solutions.

However, the GPSIA agrees that “the best strategy for achieving resilient PNT services is to pursue multiple technologies to promote diversity in PNT functionality,” he said. said. It is also imperative that the backup solution can provide features and performance levels comparable to GPS technology and is driven by each industry’s PNT requirements rather than government mandates.

decades old problem

Lockheed Martin GPS-III-On Orbit
lockheed martin

Part of the problem with GPS stems from its design as a Cold War relic. Integrated Roadways founder and CEO Tim Sylvester said in an interview that GPS was designed for military use in conflict areas where civilian networks are not available. It is not intended for navigating pedestrians and vehicles in peaceful urban areas.

“This design-use mismatch means that GPS has some serious flaws, such as poor accuracy and high latency,” says Sylvester. These challenges are the product of GPS signals from satellites thousands of miles away, and the shortcomings are the result of irreversible physics. ”

GPS has its drawbacks. A new generation of self-driving carsPoor GPS accuracy means it can’t be used effectively to tell which lane someone is in, which is a big problem while driving. Higher latency also means that location information gets worse when you’re moving at high speeds. A big problem when driving, said Sylvester. GPS is transmitted from thousands of miles away, so in urban areas with lots of skyscrapers, accuracy is even worse as skyscrapers block satellites that aren’t in the right position and send them past the buildings. Become.

Next-generation Apple CarPlay interface.

“These limitations are completely inconsistent with the use of GPS in connected and self-driving cars. It requires a high degree of operation,” says Sylvester. “Like newspapers were replaced by online news, GPS was a big stepping stone, but it’s time to get over it. but this is usually hidden from users because they care about good service, not how to get it.”

The coming wave of self-driving cars may require better location systems. Sylvester said the most promising alternative to GPS for connected and self-driving cars he called APNT. PNT stands for “Position, Navigation and Telemetry”. Depending on who you ask, “A” may stand for assistance, extension, warranty, replacement, or other near synonymous terms.

APNT is embedded in local infrastructure including cell antennas, Bluetooth beacons, Wi-Fi, or other “alternative” means for positioning, navigating, and receiving vehicle telemetry.

“These methods have been used over the past 15 years with a combination of smartphone components and readily available communication methods. It’s great for tourists trying to find it, but its ad hoc nature means you can’t count on autonomy,” says Sylvester.

Integrated Roadways has developed a Smart Pavement that embeds APNT functionality directly into the road. It uses highly accurate road sensors and is supported by an ultra-low latency edge network. Designed from the ground up as a reliable, safe and secure industrial-quality network that is embedded in the road and provides the capabilities needed for next-generation mobility demands, he has the power needed for connected and autonomous vehicles. APNT feature,” he said Sylvester.

Where are you going after GPS?

Person with iPhone 14 looking for emergency SOS satellite.

NextNav’s system is not the only option as a GPS backup. Max Perez, ColdQuanta’s vice president of research and security and his president of solutions, said in an interview that Quantum Positioning Systems (QPS) could serve as an alternative to GPS. Quantum properties power positioning systems, and unlike GPS, QPS does not require constant calibration with external signals to run.

“For a QPS to work, it just needs to know its starting point, so it can calculate speed, time, and direction of travel to determine its current position,” said Perez. “Quantum Positioning Systems (QPS) will enhance GPS around the world to provide significantly improved navigation security. Use cases for QPS include navigation for aircraft, submarines, self-driving vehicles, Advantages of QPS over GPS include accuracy, satellite independence, indoor use, and less vulnerability to hacking.”

According to Damato, the GPS industry is innovating rapidly, developing solutions to make GPS more accurate and resilient. These solutions include GPS receivers, satellites that distribute these GPS signals, and ground control segments that track and monitor GPS performance.

“The massive modernization of the GPS constellation is well underway and, when completed, will provide dozens of new satellites, significantly improving accuracy and improving anti-jamming capabilities,” he added. .

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