Faux signals for real results: IFEN

August 28, 2023  - By

An exclusive interview with Jürgen Pielmeier, managing director, IFEN. For more exclusive interviews from this cover story, click here.

In which markets and/or applications do you specialize?

IFEN is offering RF simulation solutions for all GNSS markets, except the defense market with encrypted signals. The major market in recent years was the ‘New Space’ market, mainly focused to design and test PNT navigation solutions as part of (primarily) LEO satellite constellations using existing GNSS systems. With the many new players around the world, there are many market opportunities. To be successful in this ‘New Space’ market requires simulation support of all GNSS systems and signals, modelling LEO dynamics and environment and providing multiple RF-outputs (enabling systems with several GNSS antennas located on the satellite). With our latest ‘NCS NOVA+’ RF simulator, support of up to 4 RF-antenna simulations is possible. From basic RF system up to integrated SIL and HIL systems, the level of required solutions is very diverse by the different applications. The IFEN RF simulator is also offering a full ‘radio occultation’ simulation capability specifically for this market.

The second important market is the automotive/maritime PNT market requiring fully integrated HIL simulation solutions. Excellent integration capability into external environment simulation systems with a rich set of interfaces and short latencies are keys for this market. To further penetrate this market, IFEN will implement some major enhancements during this and next year within its RF simulator products.

How has the need for simulation changed in the past five years, with the completion of the BeiDou and Galileo GNSS constellations, the rise in jamming and spoofing threats, the sharp increase in corrections services, and the advent of new LEO-based PNT services?

Today, supporting all existing GNSS systems with all related signal components on all frequencies is a must have for all high-end RF simulators. Keeping the RF simulators up-to-date with the new and continuously evolving GNSS signals is required to be sustainably competitive. Specifically, beyond the L-band signals, we are also fully supporting the S-band signals of the NavIC constellation. The continuously increasing number of available GNSS satellites and signals requires that the RF simulator capabilities are fully scalable to provide sufficient resources to simulate all signal channels. Our new NCS NOVA+ simulator is our first RF simulator with strong scalability capabilities, to be further extended in the coming years.

In recent years, adding support for the simulation of jamming and spoofing threats was a major driver for the market. Our latest RF simulator generation ‘NCS NOVA+’ is fully supporting all types of jamming and spoofing, fully integrated into our RF simulators to enable coherent signal generation. With the coming ‘DFMC’ (SBAS/GBAS dual-frequency multi-constellation) based safety-of-life and automated driving applications, the need to support advanced jamming and spoofing simulation solutions will be a continuous driver also for the future.

Adding the ‘High Accuracy Service’ (HAS) PPP-correction capability on Galileo E6-B signal in our coming V2.9 release is driven by the increased request for PPP corrections services. We expect further improvements here in the coming years, especially to cover the emerging PPP-RTK market needs.

With the coming age of LEO-PNT services, this is the most important driver for the next five years, extending the signal frequencies beyond the current L- and S-band signals, seeing new modulations, two-way transfer and many more topics. This will require strong development efforts on the RF simulator side, to provide suited RF test tools in time to LEO-PNT system designers and developers, but also the related user terminal developers. IFEN is currently preparing to take this next major step in its RF simulator capability portfolio.

In particular, regarding some of the new PNT services being developed, how do you simulate them realistically without the benefit of recordings of live sky signals?

Facing the lack of live sky signals when developing RF simulator capabilities is a continuous challenge. It requires to a certain signal simulation flexibility designed into the receiver, good and theoretical understanding of specific implications of new designed signals. As soon as real signals are then available, simulation and real signals will be compared and if required the simulation fidelity will be adjusted to meet the real signals.

Are accuracy requirements for simulation increasing, to enable emerging applications?
Concerning the core accuracy parameters requested in recent years, we saw no increase in required accuracy, as the typical requested accuracy are anyway far beyond the real signals accuracy.

Are all your simulators for use in the lab or are some for use in the field? If the latter, for what applications and how do they differ from the ones in the lab? (For starters, I assume that they are smaller, lighter, and less power-hungry…)

Currently all our simulators are designed for usage within the laboratory. However, we recognize an increased request for in-field capable RF simulators, specifically to perform spoofing of real SIS to test deployed GNSS receivers in the field. Offering a portable in-field solution is in the mid-term planning, but not a current driver for our developments.

What are some of your recent successes?

The most important recent success is the Galileo 2nd generation Test User Receiver contract from the European Space Agency. Within this contract, the ‘NCS NOVA+’ simulator as RF test tool will be upgraded to full G2G signal generation capability. The new already implemented G2G signals enabling shorter TTFF, improved acquisition performance but also higher updates rates (e.g. for PPP-RTK). Up to end of the year the G2G signal will be fully implemented in our RF simulator, including the next generation of advanced authentication solutions.

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About the Author: Matteo Luccio

Matteo Luccio, GPS World’s Editor-in-Chief, possesses more than 20 years of experience as a writer and editor for GNSS and geospatial technology magazines. He began his career in the industry in 2000, serving as managing editor of GPS World and Galileo’s World, then as editor of Earth Observation Magazine and GIS Monitor. His technical articles have been published in more than 20 professional magazines, including Professional Surveyor Magazine, Apogeo Spatial and xyHt. Luccio holds a master’s degree in political science from MIT. He can be reached at mluccio@northcoastmedia.net or 541-543-0525.