Danger, Will Robinson! Beware the IMES of Japan

October 8, 2014  - By

The IMES navigation concept. Credit: IMES

In May 2011, Dinesh Manandhar and Hideyuki Torimoto of GNSS Technologies, Inc., Japan, penned a very interesting article in GPS World titledOpening Up Indoors: Japan’s Indoor Messaging System, IMES. The opening paragraph of their lengthy article seemingly describes the Holy Grail for the indoor positioning lobby:

“An indoor messaging system (IMES) has been developed to meet the challenges of indoor and deep indoor positioning, as a system that can be implemented in any device that has a GPS/GNSS receiver without hardware modification. IMES can provide reliable 3D position data with a single transmitter device without performing range calculation[s].”

They go on to describe the IMES concept thusly:

“The main concept of IMES is to transmit position and floor ID of the transmitter with the same RF signal as GPS. IMES transmits latitude, longitude, height, and floor ID by replacing the ephemeris and clock data in the navigation message of GPS. A single unit of IMES is enough to get the position data, since the position itself is directly transmitted.”

Now, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to start thinking about interference and spoofing issues or risks, especially when you read that the navigation message ephemeris and clock data are being replaced by data broadcast by IMES. To be fair, the authors address these issues briefly:

“Since IMES shares the same frequency as [the] GPS L1 band (1575.42 MHz), there is an interference level that IMES may have on GPS signals. This interference has been studied in detail by conducting experiments and simulations. Based on these studies and analysis, various methods have been considered to avoid harmful interference to GPS signal. To avoid such interference, IMES center frequency is shifted by +/– 8.2 KHz from GPS L1 band. This will have the least impact on the GPS L1 band signal. For example, if the IMES signal is –110 dBm (very strong) and the GPS signal is –142 dBm (very weak), the loss of GPS signal (C/N0) due to IMES is less than 2 db. If the IMES signal is –120 dBm and the GPS signal is –142 dBm, there is no loss of GPS signal (C/N0). Based on this analysis, the IMES transmitter power must be controlled such that the maximum power to the receiver does not exceed –110 dBm at a distance of 3 meters from the transmitter. [There are] guideline[s] specified in the QZSS IS document for setting the transmitter effective isotropic radiated power (EIRP) based on location.”

Let’s put these concerns in perspective. I thoroughly enjoyed the article and firmly believe that we desperately need to solve the indoor positioning and navigation problems, especially for our warfighters and first responders. While many of today’s excellent commercial receivers work well indoors near windows and doors, they are absolutely abysmal underground and deep inside large buildings with lots of metal, or in the middle of dense urban canyons such as Tokyo, Japan. Without a doubt, there is a dire need for a system like IMES — or maybe exactly like IMES — but there must be some caveats and stipulations as to how the IMES system is implemented.

Not Alone

Fortunately, I am far from being a lone wolf in voicing my concerns and my position, for once again the conspiracy theorists as well as renowned scientist and policy makers are concerned about IMES and the operating systems they supposedly desire to replace or augment. Chief among them is the Father of GPS, Dr. Bradford Parkinson, who has frequently described improperly operated in-band pseudolites as “…just another name for a legal jammer or spoofer.” Having known Brad for almost 40 years, I am convinced few GPS experts in the world today have as much experience with pseudolites as Dr. Parkinson. Consequently, the very reason that an indoor navigation system such as IMES is needed may well be a portent for why it may well fail, unless it is implemented properly.

It would be easy but extremely tedious to write about the numerous issues facing IMES in a complicated and technical manner. Certainly previous articles have become bogged down in minutia, and I want to avoid that. It is actually very simple. The issues are fairly straightforward and should be faced head on and not hidden in the midst of tech-speak lingo, legal jargon, policy minutia or politics. So lets dive straight in, shall w,e and make sure these issues see the light of day?


There can be no doubt that IMES has the potential to significantly interfere with GPS and QZSS signals. The authors of the IMES article are quite clear concerning the potential for interference, and in their own way attempt to mitigate it with signal power restrictions. Their example of a small three- to four-story building with IMES transmitters may indeed be adequate for signal power mitigations, but what happens in Tokyo where tall buildings — skyscrapers if you will — abound? When the Tokyo Skytree skyscraper opened to the public in 2012, it was then listed as the world’s tallest tower and Japan’s biggest new landmark. At over 2,080 feet tall, this is definitely the type of building where one would need an IMES system. With an average of 20 IMES transmitters per floor and weighing in with over 200 floors, we can quickly see that there would be over 4,000 IMES transmitters in this one building alone, all broadcasting simultaneously on or near the center frequency for GPS. Absent stringent regulations and infinite care (the IMES article authors propose that the pseudolite network operator will have the responsibility to continuously monitor each pseudolite and the pseudolite network to prevent interference), and perhaps even with those caveats in place, the GPS L-band noise floor would be such that GPS signals would be incapable of being received.

Now, put 20 such buildings in a ten-block area and the noise floor would be almost incalculable and certainly not predictable. Dr. Parkinson’s fears are realized; your legalized IMES system becomes a distributed network of jammers and/or spoofers. However, technically IMES is currently far from being a legal jammer or spoofer as currently IMES transmitters are not legal to operate in the GPS band at 1559-1610 MHz under the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Treaty per the International Table of Frequency Allocations of the ITU Radio Regulations. The ITU further states that IMES currently operates on an interfering basis with the co-primary allocations (ARNS/RNSS) in this band, and therefore are in violation of the ITU Treaty. However, Japan’s frequency regulatory agency can develop and implement regulations that allow IMES operations. When this occurs, if not operated within stringent guidelines, IMES could then be considered a legalized jammer or spoofer.

Even the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, the JRC, states in its Executive Summary on pseudolites that in-band pseudolites pose a significant jamming risk to GNSS receivers. Specifically they state:

Pseudolites or pseudo-satellites are an emerging technology with the potential of enabling satellite navigation indoors. This technology found several applications that are not limited to indoor navigation. Precise landing, emergency services in difficult environments and precise positioning and machine control are few examples where pseudolite technology can be employed.

Despite the great potential of this technology, severe interference problems with existing GNSS services can arise. The problem can be particularly severe when considering non-participating receivers — legacy devices not designed for pseudolite signals. The design of pseudolite signals is thus a complex problem that has to account for market requirements (modifications of existing receivers for enabling the use of pseudolite signals, measurement accuracy, target application), regulatory aspects (frequency bands to be allocated for pseudolite services) and interference problems.

JRC investigates the main aspects to be considered for the design of a pseudolite signal standard minimizing the interference problem without compromising the location capabilities of the system. The focus is on the signal characteristics and topics relevant for the signal design.

Pseudolite or Communications System

The second technical portion of the interference issue revolves around how exactly you define IMES, for when you are dealing with radio regulation agencies semantics matter. Think back to the first paragraph of this article where the IMES authors defined IMES as a messaging system. That certainly sounds like a communications system to me, and others agree. Consequently, the question has been raised and rightfully so: Is IMES a navigation and positioning system, a pseudolite or a communications system? Honestly, to me it sounds like a bit of all three, but if you define it as a communications system, then Japan is seeking to authorize the integration of a communications system with known significant interference issues with GPS signals right in the middle — indeed, potentially on the center frequency of the protected navigation band using terrestrial PRN codes assigned by the U.S. government. If IMES is deemed an indoor pseudolite, then the interference issues are still there. But it is defined as a bonafide PNT system using authorized terrestrial PRN codes. Talk about a bucket of worms!

The issues here are numerous, and they need to be fully addressed to ensure that all those who are potentially affected clearly understand what is being proposed and the risk for the public at large, including who owns responsibility if something goes wrong. I could go on for several pages on this issue alone, but suffice it to say, we do not want to authorize a communications system that is a known and acknowledged GPS interferer right in the middle of the band — or anywhere in the band for that matter. Remember all the issues GPS had in the past several years with a communications system in adjacent bands. So, do we really want a known communications system — or communications system masquerading as a pseudolite, for that matter — with known GPS signal interference issues in the restricted GPS frequency spectrum? The blaringly obvious answer is absolutely not! Yet this is exactly what the IMES authors are proposing not only for Japan, but eventually, if they receive authorization, for other countries around the globe as well. Japan has twice petitioned the U.S. government to make the assigned IMES terrestrial PRN code allocations global in nature. Fortunately, to date those request have been denied.


Certainly, other countries and companies have noticed this apparent frequency authorization dichotomy and are following suit. For instance the Conference of European Postal and Telecommunications agencies, or CEPT, which is Europe’s regional representative to the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC), has proposed adding several troubling IMES-related agenda items for the quadrennial WRCs coming up in 2015 and 2019. Even more importantly, these critical issues could be aired in the next three weeks, as the agenda for the 2015 WRC will be largely set at a plenipotentiary conference happening October 20 through November 8 in Busan, South Korea.

There are what I consider to be dangerous proposals under consideration by the ITU (International Telecommunication Union), which should concern GNSS users worldwide. The ITU is the United Nations’ specialized agency for information and communication technologies — ICTs. This is the ITU, where every member state (currently 193) gets one vote, whether they fully understand the technical issues or not and regardless of whether they are a space-faring nation or have a dog in the fight, so to speak. This means that the vote of tiny Saint Lucia counts the same as the United States or Canada or Australia. The ITU charter is to “…allocate global radio spectrum and satellite orbits, develop the technical standards that ensure networks and technologies seamlessly interconnect, and strive to improve access to ICTs to underserved communities worldwide.” Fortunately, the ITU regulations, unlike the CEPT or IMES proposals, wisely require new transmitters proposing to operate in the radio navigation spectrum to operate without causing interference to primary users. Meanwhile, there are member states, countries and companies that want to capitalize on this seeming dichotomy within the global safety-of-life, historically protected, radio bands. Those nefarious efforts, for the future of GPS and GNSS worldwide, need to be stopped in their tracks.

Spectrum is a limited and valuable resource, to say the least, and here fortunately the ITU regulations have it right and do not risk human life, by intruding and potentially interfering with the frequencies used globally by airliners to control, route and land aircraft. I am convinced there are solutions available to us through cooperative efforts with the ITU and other national organizations that will produce pseudolites without causing interference in the protected safety-of-life frequency bands.

When Is a PRN Code Not a PRN Code?

Some of you who are a bit more savvy or have been following this fiasco for some time may now be thinking, what’s the problem, the IMES authors are merely using and proposing further use of U.S. government-authorized terrestrial PRN codes for IMES. This indeed touches on the third thorny issue, which is not only technical but political as well — the use of and authorization to use PRN codes for what is ostensibly a communications system, if you believe the authors of the IMES article, who go to great lengths to differentiate IMES from pseudolites. They continually make the argument that IMES is not a pseudolite, but as we shall soon see, when the U.S. government authorized these specific PRN codes (173-182) for Japan, they were to be used solely for a low-power terrestrial pseudolite program, not an in-band communications system.

Technically, these specific PRN codes assigned to the Japanese for IMES expire in 2017. The authorization of these PRN codes come with numerous restrictions that legally make the codes useful only for the Japanese landmass. This is where the technical, political and operational issues come to a head. We are in for some tough sledding here. However, I will endeavor to make it as simple as possible.


In 2007, ten PRN codes were specifically assigned to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency or JAXA “for the Indoor Messaging System (IMES) terrestrial pseudolites of the Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS).” The Memorandum of Agreement from the GPS Wing at SMC (Space and Missile Systems Center) in Los Angeles at Los Angeles Air Force Base (LAAFB) clearly states that the codes are valid for ten years and expire on 19 November 2017, unless a renewal application is filed and approved. Hence, PRN codes 173-182 for IMES were assigned with several crucial caveats and restrictions by the U.S. government that are definitely pertinent to our discussion:

  1. The codes are designated for low-power terrestrial regional applications limited to Japan only.
  2. Although the GPS Wing conducts an initial check on PRN number requests with respect to potential interference issues, the issuance of a PRN number does not convey authority to radiate in the [GPS] band. In order to radiate in the GPS L1 band, the applicant [Japan] shall obtain a frequency assignment from the [Japanese] national authority.
  3. The GPS Wing assumes no responsibility for ensuring systems using these spreading codes follow domestic radio frequency regulations or other applicable laws or regulations, or for ensuring that systems using GPS PRN codes do not cause radio frequency interference.
  4. GPS PRN codes were developed for signals transmitted from satellites, and are not necessarily optimized for use by terrestrial transmitters.
  5. The maximum effective isotropic power for each terrestrial transmitter will be less than -94 dBW.
  6. The QZSS [organization] is responsible for the redistribution of these spreading codes throughout Japan and will limit their use to Japan only.

With all these restrictions, it is difficult to see how the IMES authors could legally use, distribute or promote authorization of IMES and the use of the PRN codes outside of Japan and at the power levels related in the GPS World IMES article. Regardless of the IMES author’s interpretation of the PRN code assignment, the GPS Wing 2007 Memorandum restrictions and caveats are clear, and it cannot be disputed that the codes expire in 2017 unless renewed by the USAF. The PRN codes are restricted to the landmass of Japan even if they are renewed, and if IMES wishes to broadcast anywhere in the GPS band, they need to have permission from their national frequency allocation authority (the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, which is equivalent to the U.S. FCC –Federal Communications Commission) to do so.

The Way Ahead

This is the easy part from my perspective. See if you don’t agree. If the U.S. government is concerned about IMES and what Japan is planning to do with the assigned PRN codes for terrestrial use, the U.S. government through the USAF has the options to:

  1. Rescind the PRN codes immediately.
  2. Insure the Japanese adhere to the caveats and restrictions in the original Memorandum.
  3. Simply refuse to renew or recertify the codes for future use and/or recommend for IMES frequencies that are outside the protected GPS band.
  4. Update and clarify the footnote on the GPS Wing PRN Codes website pertaining to the Japanese IMES PRN Codes with all the restrictions listed in the GPS Wing Memorandum so other countries will realize this is not a global IMES PRN assignment.

Japan is a valuable ally and we need to work together cooperatively, but frankly, the plans laid out for IMES by the authors in the GPS World article must be troubling to those whose job it is protect the GPS spectrum and enforce mutual agreements with our allies. If we were just concerned about a Japanese IMES system, this whole discussion might be moot. However, other countries and commercial companies around the world are watching closely and laying the groundwork for similar IMES and pseudolite incursions into the GPS L-band spectrum — if the Japanese are allowed to proceed and the limited use of PRN codes for IMES is not clarified for all. No one, and I include the Japanese, wants to see this happen if it means interference with GPS, and QZSS for that matter.

Fortunately, where European countries are concerned, there are the ITU regulations. Specifically for GPS and pseudolites, the CEPT regulation has a license condition that requires the pseudolite network operator to submit to the European country regulator confirmation of the terrestrial PRN codes from the GNSS operator before operating pseudolites in the GPS band. So again, the U.S. government wields the hammer here.

Therefore, the U.S. government must act immediately and decisively to put an end to the threats against the protected GPS spectrum caused by the proposed in-band IMES system. At the same time, the Japanese government has an obligation and responsibility to adhere to the letter of the law where the original GPS Wing 2007 IMES Memorandum is concerned.

Finally, the U.S. government must urgently engage cooperatively with the European Union administration and Japan to prevent the authorization and proliferation of interfering devices in the GNSS frequency bands, and to work together to ensure the positive benefits to GNSS from commercializing pseudolite uses outside the GNSS radio frequency bands. GNSS manufacturers worldwide are successfully marketing commercial pseudolites that do not cause interference. In my opinion, this is the way to go both in terms of regulations and governance.

Until next time, happy navigating, and remember GPS is brought to you free of charge by the United States Air Force.

About the Author: Don Jewell

Don Jewell served 30 years in the United States Air Force, as an aviator and a space subject-matter expert. Don’s involvement with GPS and other critical space systems began with their inception, either as a test system evaluator or user. He served two command assignments at Schriever AFB, the home of GPS, and retired as Deputy Chief Scientist for Air Force Space Command. Don also served as a Politico Military Affairs Officer during the Reagan administration, working with 32 foreign embassies and serving as a Foreign Disclosure Officer making critical export control decisions concerning sophisticated military hardware and software. After retiring from the USAF, Don served seven years as the senior space marketer and subject-matter expert for two of the largest government contractors dealing in space software and hardware. Don currently serves on two independent GPS review teams he helped found, and on three independent assessment teams at the Institute for Defense Analyses, dealing with critical issues for the U.S. government. Don has served on numerous Air Force and Defense Scientific Advisory Boards. He writes and speaks extensively on technical issues concerning the U.S. government. Don earned his Bachelor’s degree and MBA; the Ph.D. is in progress.

4 Comments on "Danger, Will Robinson! Beware the IMES of Japan"

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  1. Logan Scott says:

    Nicely done Don,

    One of the most striking aspects of IMES and the EU indoor pseudolite proposals is not only how much damage they can do but also, how little capability they actually bring to bear on the problem of indoor navigation. Knowing where you are just one aspect of the problem. Figuring out where you want to go (e.g. which restaurant, which aisle) and how to get there is also important. Standalone navigation systems won’t provide these capabilities. Smart phones will.

    Reliable and accurate indoor location is one of the major objectives embodied in the cellular industries’ work plans for LTE release 13. Partly, this is motivated by E911 mandates from the FCC but more importantly, there is widespread recognition that there is money to be made in precise indoor location, a lot of money. Modernized waveforms will have explicit ranging capabilities. Similarly, some of the newer WiFi standards. Widespread deployment of small cell and microcell architectures using advanced wideband waveforms provides higher capacity (bits/sec/Hz/km^2) and coverage and at the same time, provides advantageous geometries for location determination. I expect that the peer to peer features of LTE-Direct (Release 12) will also find application in crowdsourced, collaborative navigation if not for location, then for establishing destinations.

    Trying to cram incompatible signals into the GNSS bands is not only unwise from an interference perspective, it also fails to comprehend commercial realities. In light of rapidly advancing smart phone capabilities, pseudolites and IMES are as dated as pagers. Why take the risk?

    Logan Scott

  2. Don Jewell says:

    Thanks for your kind comments and support. Of course you are absolutely correct and that is the point, it is a risk we do not need to take. The USAF did a great job limiting the use of terrestrial PRNs on paper – now the signatories just need to adhere to the agreement.

  3. Ed Jones says:

    Hi Don

    If I hold an IMES beacon it will disable GPS reception in the area around me.
    I can not use GPS and neither can anyone or anything around me.
    The proposal is to mass produce IMES beacons.
    Name one mass produced device that the public can not obtain.
    The public will obtain IMES beacons.

    Worst case assume everyone carries one to prevent themselves from being tracked. That will essentially disable GPS where ever people are present. Even if a lower percentage of the population carries an IMES beacon, in urban areas with high population density this would still create an IMES beacon density that would diminish GPS reception in cities.

    Assume just one person has an IMES beacon and uses it to intentionally jam GPS to cause harm, when a plane is landing?

    What about a competitive shop owner who wants to message people who pass by their shop front and installs IMES beacons outside their shop. This will disable GPS on sidewalks in front of shops.

    We as a people really do not want and can not manage mass production of GPS jammers.

    Will we establish new laws and create a new policing capability to track illegal use of IMES beacons? How many billions will that dump on every community in the worlds law enforcement budget?

    Hopefully economic minds will prevail and use Bluetooth Low Energy beacons, which cost up to ten times less and offer better capabilities. Or continue to improve WiFi location capability. Or realize the benefits of LTE small cell roll out and its location capability.


  4. Don Jewell says:

    You are absolutely correct. There are much better options and you have certainly listed a few that are on the table.