Photo: European Space Agency
The GPS community has complained that LightSquared, a new wholesale 4G wireless company, could cause catastrophic interference that would render many GPS services inoperable.
But it turns out that the GPS companies may have done considerably more damage to themselves. A UK study by the Royal Academy of Engineering found that backups for global navigation services are essentially non-existent, and GPS is extremely susceptible to hacking, jamming and spoofing by anyone from a malicious attacker to a terrorist.
Taking down GPS wouldn’t just impact direction-seekers and people checking into stores on their smartphone apps. Between 6% and 7% of Western countries’ GDP is tied to satellite navigation, and a failure of GPS could do upwards of $1 billion of damage to the European Union alone, the study found.
Yes, there is a real possibility of a wireless network interfering with GPS services, and the Academy has several recommendations for how to mitigate that effect.
But it doesn’t just have to be a wireless network: In 2002, a poorly installed closed-circut TV camera in Douglas, Isle of Man, caused GPS within a kilometer radius to be blocked.
The reason the GPS community is so susceptible to failure — both on a local level and massive level — is largely due to a lack in investment in its own technology. for instance, there are only 32 GPS satellites around the planet, two of which are inoperable. That worrisome, because 24 are needed to make the GPS constellation work.
Times are tough for GPS companies, which are seeing share dwindling due to consumers’ increasing use of smartphones for satellite navigation. It’s understandable that they are upset about potential interference, especially if it’s emanating from a rival’s network.
But without serious upgrades to ensure the protection of their assets, it may all be a moot point -David