Smartphones and other cutting-edge devices rely on global positioning system data. However, the system’s susceptibility to malfunctions may be higher than you anticipate. Unfortunately, the United States does not have any backup geolocation technology in case of power failures or interference. In addition to Russia’s threats to destroy GPS satellites, inaccurate GPS signals recently forced the temporary closure of a Dallas airport.
Fortunately, businesses are taking action to strengthen GPS security. NextNav has inked an agreement to supply its innovative TerraPoiNT technology, which complements GPS by making use of current Long Term Evolution (LTE) and Fifth Generation (5G) networks. Ganesh Pattabiraman, CEO of NextNav, said in an interview with Digital Trends that TerraPoiNT’s signal is nearly 100,000 times stronger than GPS and that its signal encryption makes it more resistant to jamming and spoofing. It’s an interesting fact, and it provides some insight into how we can (and should) protect GPS.
Irreplaceable Yet Vulnerable: Why GPS is So Crucial
Positioning, navigation, and timing services, as well as location services, are all available to mobile devices thanks to GPS. As a result of its extensive availability, it has become an indispensable part of businesses and infrastructure all across the world, from the power grid to emergency services to monetary transactions. Yet, as Pattabiraman pointed out, the system is “extremely sensitive” to interference like as jamming and spoofing.
The GPS receiver will be unable to transmit position data if “a jammer emits a signal that interferes with signal reception,” he explained.
For instance, just recently, planes at DFW International Airport were grounded due to issues with GPS signals. The airport was closed for two days as officials investigated the cause of the problem, which turned out to be an unknown source of interference.
Also concerning is the possibility of intervention from abroad. Russia has publicly boasted about its ability to destroy GPS satellites.
In his opinion, “an occurrence like a huge solar flare or damage to commercial satellites may possibly knock off multiple important services that we rely on every day,” Pattabiraman added. For this reason, the U.S. government has issued an executive order to “engage the public and private sectors to identify and promote the responsible use of PNT services” and other measures to encourage the development and adoption of PNT alternatives to GPS in order to guarantee the reliability of global positioning system systems.
According to an interview with GPS Innovation Alliance acting executive director Alex Damato, the association does not take a stand on which backup GPS options are best.
He did, however, note that GPSIA concurs that “the optimal strategy for creating robust PNT service is to explore several technologies to increase variety in the PNT functions.” It is also crucial that backup solutions, rather than government regulations, drive the PNT needs of each industry sector. This means that they must be capable of providing the same capabilities and performance as GPS technology.
A Major Issue
The global positioning system (GPS) has been plagued by issues from its inception as a Cold War relic. According to Tim Sylvester, CEO of Integrated Roadways, GPS was originally intended for use by the military in combat zones when civilian networks were unavailable, such as when launching rockets thousands of feet into the air or guiding aircraft carriers full of planes across the ocean. It was never meant to assist guide people and automobiles in tranquil urban settings.
“This mismatch in design versus application implies that GPS has numerous important faults, such as low accuracy and high latency,” Sylvester added. These problems originate from GPS signals transmitted by satellites located thousands of kilometers distant, and they are a result of intractable physical laws.
When it comes to the next generation of autonomous vehicles, GPS has certain downsides. The limited precision of GPS makes it difficult to use it to determine which lane another vehicle is in, which is a major issue while driving, and the high latency of GPS makes it difficult to maintain a stable position when moving fast, which is also problematic, as Sylvester pointed out. Since GPS signals are sent from thousands of miles away, their accuracy decreases in densely populated places with tall buildings. This is because the buildings block signals from satellites that aren’t in the perfect position to transmit beyond the structures.
Since most traffic occurs in congested metropolitan areas, Sylvester argues that “these restrictions are utterly at odds with employing GPS for connected and autonomous cars,” which calls for high precision, low latency, and dependable operation in such environments. It’s time to move on from GPS; it was a useful stepping stone, but just like newspapers gave way to internet news, it’s obsolete now. As a matter of fact, most applications already ignore GPS and covertly swap it with alternatives like Bluetooth, but this is typically hidden from the user since “all the user cares about is a good service, not how they obtain it.”
A more accurate tracking system could be needed for the oncoming fleet of autonomous cars. According to Sylvester, APNT is a possible alternative to GPS for connected and autonomous automobiles. Position, navigation, and telemetry is abbreviated as PNT. There are several possible meanings for the letter “A,” including “aided,” “augmented,” “assured,” “alternative,” and “advanced.”
When it comes to positioning, navigation, and receiving vehicle telemetry, APNT is integrated into the local infrastructure, which may include cell antennae, Bluetooth beacons, Wi-Fi, or other “alternative” ways.
While these methods are useful for tourists wandering Market Street or Times Square in search of a sandwich that costs less than $30, Sylvester argues that they are not reliable for autonomy because they have been pieced together over the past 15 years using a combination of smartphone components and readily available communications methods.
Integrated Roadways has been developing Smart Pavement, which builds the APNT capabilities directly into the road, using high-accuracy in-road sensors, and supported by an ultra-low-latency edge network, “so that any road upgraded with Smart Pavement has all the APNT capabilities needed for connected and autonomous vehicles built into the roadway and designed from the ground up as a reliable, safe, secure, industrial-quality network providing the features required by next-generation mobility demands, ” Sylvester said
After Global Positioning System, Where Do We Proceed?
The NextNav system is not the only GPS backup available. In an interview, ColdQuanta’s vp of research and security solutions, Max Perez, discussed how Quantum Positioning Systems (QPS) might one day replace GPS. The system is driven by quantum characteristics, and unlike GPS, it does not need constant calibration with external signals to function.
“A QPS simply has to know its beginning place to work, and it is able to compute how fast it has moved, how long it has traveled, and which direction it has traveled in to estimate its present position,” Perez added. QPS provides far higher levels of navigational safety than GPS and would be used to supplement GPS over the world. QPS has several potential applications, such as in navigation systems for airplanes, submarines, autonomous vehicles, and more. QPS has many advantages over GPS, including greater precision, independence from satellites, use inside, and resistance to hacking.
According to Damato, the GPS business is rapidly evolving, finding ways to improve GPS accuracy and reliability. GPS receivers, GPS satellites, and the ground control section that monitors and tracks GPS performance all fall under this category of solutions.
According to him, “a massive renovation of the GPS constellation is well underway,” and when it’s done, “dozens of new satellites” will be delivered, each with much improved accuracy and enhanced protection against jamming.