Why your phone’s GPS desperately needs an overhaul

Latest technology , Including smart phonesIt works on the Global Positioning System (GPS). But the system may be more prone to failure than you think. The US lacks backup geolocation technology, which means a power outage or interference could be catastrophic. Russia threatened to be destroyed GPS Faulty satellites and GPS signals recently temporarily shut down Dulles Airport.

Fortunately, companies are stepping in to help protect GPS. NextNav recently inked a deal to provide new technology called TerraPoiNT that acts as a backup to GPS, using existing LTE and 5G networks. “TerraPoiNT’s signal is more than 100,000 times stronger than GPS, and its signal encryption makes it more resistant to jamming and spoofing,” Ganesh Pattabiraman, CEO of NextNav, told Digital Trends in an interview. It’s an interesting case – and a glimpse into how we can (and should) protect GPS.

Why GPS is so important and so fragile

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

GPS provides positioning, navigation and timing services as well as positioning services for mobile phones. Its wide availability has made it an integral global facility for industries and infrastructure, from the electrical grid to 911 emergency services to financial transactions. But 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 OneSDRhe said in an interview that GPS communication receivers are often jammed using jammers that are easily obtainable and cheap.

He added, “The jammer will emit a signal that will interfere with signal reception, and as a result, the GPS receiver will not be able to provide location information.”

In one recent example, problems with GPS signals This led to the suspension of flights At the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. The problem was traced back to a mysterious source of interference and the airport was closed for two days.

Early morning photo of Newark Airport.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

Possible foreign interference is another issue. Russia boasted that it could eliminate it The satellites that provide our GPS system.

“An event such as a major solar flare or damage to commercial satellites can disrupt many essential services that we depend on every day,” Pattabiraman said. That’s why the US federal government has recognized the importance of implementing alternative technologies to PNT to ensure GPS resilience, including through an executive order to “engage the public and private sectors to define and promote the responsible use of PNT services.” “

Alex D’Amato, acting CEO of the GPS Innovation Alliance, an industry group, said in an interview that his organization maintains a technology-neutral stance when it comes to GPS backup solutions.

However, he said, GPSIA agrees that “the best strategy for achieving a flexible PNT service is to pursue multiple technologies to enhance diversity in PNT functionality.” It is also imperative that backup solutions be able to offer equivalent capabilities and level of performance on par with GPS technologies and be driven by the PNT requirements of each industry segment rather than government mandates.

A decades problem in the making

Lockheed Martin GPS-III-On Orbit
Lockheed Martin

Part of the problems with GPS stems from its design as a relic of the Cold War. GPS is designed for military use in conflict zones where civilian networks are not available — launching missiles a thousand miles through the upper atmosphere or helping jet-packed carriers cross the ocean, said Tim Sylvester, founder and CEO of Integrated Roadways. , in an interview. It was never intended to aid pedestrian and vehicle navigation in quiet urban areas.

“The mismatch in design with use means that GPS has several significant drawbacks, such as low accuracy and high latency,” Sylvester said. These challenges are the product of GPS signals coming from satellites thousands of miles away, and the defects are the result of physics that cannot be fixed.”

GPS has its drawbacks when it comes A new generation of self-driving cars. GPS’s low accuracy means you can’t effectively use it to see where someone is, which is a big problem when driving, and its high response time means your location information gets worse when you’re moving quickly, which is also a big problem while driving, Sylvester said. Leadership. Since GPS comes from thousands of miles away, in urban areas with lots of tall buildings, the accuracy is worse because the tall buildings block satellites that aren’t quite in the right position to transmit through the buildings.

Next-generation Apple CarPlay interface.

“These limitations are completely antithetical to the use of GPS for connected and autonomous vehicles, which requires high accuracy, low latency and reliable operation in dense urban areas, while seeing how dense the urban areas are where the traffic is,” Sylvester said. “Just as newspapers were replaced by online news, GPS was a great starting point, but it’s time to move on. In fact, most apps already ignore GPS and quietly replace it with alternatives like Bluetooth, but that’s usually It is hidden from the user because what the user cares about is a good service, not how to get it.”

The next wave of autonomous vehicles may require a better location system. A promising alternative to GPS for connected and autonomous vehicles, Sylvester said, is called APNT. PNT stands for Position, Navigation, and Telemetry. Depending on who you ask, the letter “a” may refer to auxiliary, augmenting, substantive, alternative, or other terms that are close to synonyms.

The APNT is integrated into local infrastructure, including cellular antennas, Bluetooth signals, Wi-Fi, or other “alternative” means of positioning, navigation, and vehicle telemetry reception.

“These approaches have been pieced together over the past 15 years using a combination of readily available smartphone components and communication methods, and while great for tourists strolling down Market Street or Times Square trying to track down a sub-$30 sandwich,” Sylvester said Their private nature means that they cannot be relied upon to gain autonomy.

Roadways is developing Smart Pavement, which builds APNT capabilities directly into the road, using high-accuracy sensors on the road, and powered by an ultra-low-latency edge network, “so that any road upgraded with Smart Pavement has all the APNT capabilities needed for the vehicles,” Sylvester said. Connected, autonomous, embedded in the road and designed from the ground up as a reliable, secure, secure, industry-quality network that delivers the features that next-generation mobility demands demand.”

Where do we go after the GPS?

A person holding an iPhone 14 looks for an emergency SOS satellite.

NextNav isn’t the only option as a GPS backup. Quantum Positioning Systems (QPS) have the potential to serve as an alternative to GPS. Quantitative characteristics power GPS, and unlike GPS, QPS does not require continuous calibration with external signals turned on.

“The QPS just needs to know its starting point to operate and be able to calculate how fast it has been moving, for how long, and in what direction to determine its current location,” Perez said. “Quantum Positioning Systems (QPS) will enhance GPS worldwide as they provide significantly improved security for navigation. QPS use cases include navigation for aircraft, submarines, self-driving cars and more. Advantages of QPS over GPS include accuracy, lack of dependence on satellite, internal use, and reduced exposure to hacking.”

D’Amato said the GPS industry is innovating rapidly, developing solutions that make GPS more accurate and flexible. These solutions include GPS receivers, satellites that transmit these GPS signals, and a ground control segment that tracks and monitors GPS performance.

He added, “A major update to the GPS constellation is afoot, which when complete will provide dozens of new satellites that offer significantly greater accuracy and increased anti-jamming capabilities.”

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