We’ve Got the GPS Blues

GPS Constellation

GPS Constellation

Here are two news stories from yesterday and today concerning GPS that I think you might find interesting.

First, in yesterday's news.

Some GPS devices unable to acquire satellite signal

It is being reported today that certain GPS devices stopped working on Saturday and were unable to connect to satellites.

This serious problem appears to be an isolated problem and is associated with a few minor brands, like Omnitech, that were sold in Staples stores.

Without a signal, people relying on their GPS are unable to navigate. The reason for this glitch is unclear but the fault may lie with a change to the U.S. run satellite system also made on Saturday.

“It sounded like an internal issue where one of the clocks on the unit itself rolled back and created a false negative in unit, so it stopped receiving satellite information,” says Best Buy portable electronics specialist Matt Kaptan.

When you contact the company regarding the issue, they send a reply email that says “GPS receivers are having a problem communicating with the GPS satellites since Saturday June 13th; the GPS manufacturer is currently working very closely with the GPS satellite authorities trying to resolve this matter urgently, a solution is expected to be available within days.”

GPS in a Shoe

GPS in a Shoe

Source: WSYR TV Syracuse, NY.

More popular brands of GPS devices, like those made by Garmin and TomTom do not seem to be having these problems.

So, if your GPS device is not functioning properly and you can't find your way around, then I suggest the following courses of action:

  1. Tune in to your own built-in Compass and GPS in your head, or
  2. Use a, *GASP*, pre-printed map, and by all means
  3. Return your non-functioning GPS device to where you purchased it for a refund. Hopefully you can remember your way back to the store. If not, see numbers one and two, above.

Professional Land Surveyor Source: WSYR TV Syracuse, NY.

And in today's GPS news:

GPS Satellite Glitches Fuel Concern on Next Generation

CORS Coverage

CORS Coverage

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that technical problems are degrading the accuracy of signals from the last GPS satellite launched by the Pentagon. This serious problem is creating concern among U.S. military and aerospace industry officials who worry that the next generation of these satellites may also experience these issues.

On Tuesday the Air Force's Southern California space acquisition center announced performance problems with a Lockheed Martin Corporation GPS satellite launched in March.

"The GPS system, which serves both military and civilian users, provides precise time and location coordinates for everything from military missile launches and "smart" bombs to automated bank-teller machines to aircraft, ships and everyday vehicles. The Lockheed satellite is the first to include a new civilian frequency -- dubbed L5 -- designed for, among other things, use by future nationwide air-traffic control systems. But that signal, part of test package, apparently is interfering with other signals from the satellite and reducing their accuracy, according to industry and Air Force officials. The degraded signals are accurate only to about 20 feet, versus about two feet for typical GPS signals, industry officials said."

Source: The Wall Street Journal

What I find interesting is that for two months there has been news on both sides of this issue. First it was reported that there were issues with the new GPS Satellite and with the GPS system moving forward. Then there were rebuttals and support from "people in the know" saying that, yes, things look iffy, but everything will be worked out in the end because GPS is too important to fail.

Old Proverb: Tomorrow is going to be the busiest day of the week.

I agree with both. It is clear that there are significant issues at hand and GPS is so important that the powers that be will, in the end, find solutions to these problems. My only question is this: If GPS is so important, then why are these problems being addressed at the last minute? And why is it that some pundits find a possible reduction of GPS service acceptable?

I'm sorry, but it will not be a minor inconvenience for many people and businesses should there be a reduction in total available working and accurate GPS satellites. Let's be honest and realistic about this. If these problems aren't fixed, and the worst fears are realized, this will be an enormous failure and backwards step which will have a dramatic effect on every GPS stakeholder. This would be a major blow to many industries and the economy as a whole.

Professional Land Surveyor Source: The Wall Street Journal

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Eric D. Colburn, PLS, "The Geo-Business Innovator", helps geo-professionals improve through innovative solutions, mastery of marketing and business growth strategies, and coaching/training. Eric is a successful, serial entrepreneur, podcaster, industry writer, product development consultant, and RI licensed professional land surveyor.

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One comment on “We’ve Got the GPS Blues
  1. There are two things in your post that doesn’t seem to worry some people…

    “The GPS system, which serves both military and civilian users, provides precise time and location coordinates for everything from military missile launches and “smart” bombs to automated bank-teller machines to aircraft, ships and everyday vehicles. The Lockheed satellite is the first to include a new civilian frequency — dubbed L5 — designed for, among other things, use by future nationwide air-traffic control systems.”

    If these GPS devices aren’t as accurate as they should be, then I’m not sure I would really trust them with military weapons and everyday aircraft. I could only imagine the type of major (and life-threatening) problems this would cause.

    Here’s to hoping they DO in fact resolve this and think ahead before launching these things into orbit.