Modern civilization would be lost without GPS

Plane, automobiles, vehicles, trains and ships depend on GPS for location knowledge, whereas GPS timing alerts underpin mobile communications and monetary transactions.

A 2019 report sponsored by the Nationwide Institute of Requirements and Expertise estimated the lack of GPS would value the U.S. economic system $1 billion a day, or $1.5 billion if the know-how failed within the April-Could planting season for farmers. Two years later, the prices might be even larger with the sharp rise in shopper options and location-based rideshare and supply providers.

“Positioning, navigation and timing alerts are essential to so many stakeholders and for thus many alternative purposes {that a} disruption in these alerts would probably be extra economically vital right now,” Alan O’Connor, senior economist and director of innovation economics at RTI Worldwide, the nonprofit analysis institute that ready the 2019 report, mentioned by e-mail.

GPS and its GNSS (World Navigation Satellite tv for pc System) counterparts — Europe’s Galileo, Russia’s GLONASS and China’s Beidou — play a significant function in myriad financial actions. India’s NavIC and Japan’s QZSS are equally essential of their respective areas.

GPS is the oldest and principally broadly used PNT system. Many infrastructure networks nonetheless depend on GPS-only legacy receivers. Multi-constellation receivers have gotten a norm to supply for GNSS continuity and accuracy. Since these receivers choose up alerts from any out there GNSS satellite tv for pc, regardless of the constellation, they need to theoretically present service continuity within the occasion of GPS loss. Nonetheless, as a result of they rely totally on GPS, it’s not clear how they’d behave if GPS have been misplaced for hours.

“GPS is so essential in our on a regular basis lives. If it have been to go away for a big period of time, I’m positive lives could be misplaced,” Dana Goward, president of the nonprofit Resilient Navigation & Timing Basis, mentioned by e-mail.

Since GPS established a constellation to supply worldwide positioning, navigation and timing info in 1993, Russia, China and Europe have adopted swimsuit. The European Fee and the European Area Company are on monitor to finish the Galileo constellation by the tip of 2022. Credit score: table4/Penn State

Thus far, GNSS outages have lasted lower than in the future, however an extended breakdown is feasible. Galileo suffered a six-hour systemwide failure on Dec. 14, 2020, and a weeklong outage in July 2019. GLONASS failed in 2014 when its satellites broadcast corrupt info for 11 hours.

Outages of particular person GNSS satellites are frequent and the programs are sometimes subjected to localized jamming and spoofing. In 2016, GPS-dependent timing tools confirmed errors after an older satellite tv for pc was retired. The 13-microsecond discrepancy affected police and emergency communications tools in elements of North America for hours and prompted energy grid anomalies.

One motive GNSS failures are farreaching is the timing ingredient. GNSS satellites depend on atomic clocks for sign synchronization, which permits customers to find out the time with nanosecond accuracy. Because of this, banks depend on GPS to report the exact timing of economic transactions and cell towers use it to synchronize community nodes.

“The U.Ok. is critically depending on GNSS. These providers are integral to the U.Ok.’s security, safety and prosperity, abroad territories and wider world pursuits,” Ian Annett, UK Area Company deputy CEO, mentioned by e-mail.


If GPS have been to fail, “it’s not possible to foretell the precise sequence of occasions,” Goward mentioned. “Transportation and first responders will endure instantly. There might be extra accidents. Cellphones and web will start to degrade, however it’s onerous to say how a lot and the way rapidly.”

The COVID-19 pandemic made the U.S. economic system extra reliant than ever on telecommunications infrastructure.

“There’s broader recognition of the function infrastructure performs in our economic system, although many individuals are unaware of the connections between GPS, strong positioning, navigation and timing alerts, and the apps and instruments we use daily,” O’Connor mentioned.


A 2017 examine commissioned by Innovate UK, the UK Area Company and the Royal Institute of Navigation estimated a five-day GNSS disruption would have an financial influence of 5.2 billion kilos ($7.2 billion), with highway, maritime and emergency service impacts accounting for 88 % of the fee. Goward mentioned the price of disruption could be far larger in 2021 since location knowledge has change into pervasive. The UK Area Company has commissioned an up to date examine to find out the potential financial influence.

The previous decade has seen a pointy rise within the worth of GNSS, which largely coincides with the rise in smartphones, sensible units and web penetration, enabling a spurt in shopper options.

“Satellite tv for pc navigation programs are additionally essential to unlocking future applied sciences resembling driverless automobiles, sensible cities and synthetic intelligence — reworking the way in which folks reside, work and journey,” Annett mentioned. The UK Area Company is exploring progressive choices for a UK space-based positioning, navigation and timing functionality.


A failure of all GNSS constellations directly is unbelievable.

“The upper threat is assaults to GNSS programs from jammers or spoofers,” mentioned Miguel Amor, chief advertising officer for autonomy & positioning at Hexagon, a Stockholm-headquartered info know-how firm. Anti-jamming and anti-spoofing applied sciences can be found, however have usually been bought by nationwide safety companies relatively than industrial clients, he added.

Regional outages are extra frequent. Geopolitical tensions have led to GPS sign loss close to the Center East. In July 2018, the NATO Transport Middle acquired experiences from ships dealing with GPS interference whereas transiting the Mediterranean. NATO additionally reported comparable points in December 2019 when ships and plane within the Mediterranean couldn’t entry GPS or GLONASS alerts.

A U.S. Transportation Division report delivered to Congress in January recognized applied sciences that may complement or backup GPS service. The report discovered no present substitute, although, for GPS positioning and navigation capabilities. To make sure resilience, the Transportation Division really useful essential infrastructure homeowners and operators undertake various positioning, navigation and timing applied sciences.

Anusuya Datta is a Canada-based journalist who beforehand labored for Geospatial World. Debra Werner, table4 senior correspondent, contributed to this story from San Francisco.

This text initially appeared within the July 2021 subject of table4 journal.

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