Freedom to innovate promotes GPS resiliency

August 1, 2019  - By
Photo: Tomáš Hustoles/ Unsplash

Photo: Tomáš Hustoles/Unsplash

Ensuring the freedom to continue innovating is vital to our global economy, job creation and ultimately to empowering the next generation of GPS-enabled applications.

By J. David Grossman, Executive Director,
GPS Innovation Alliance

GPS — it’s a household name and has come to benefit so many aspects of our day-to-day lives. Today across the globe, it is estimated that there are more than 3 billion GPS receivers in the marketplace. Included in this total are GPS receivers found in mobile phones, automobiles, airplanes, tractors, boats and high-precision surveying equipment, to name just a few examples. In the past decade alone, GPS applications like these have helped generate more than $1.2 trillion for the U.S. economy and millions of jobs.

So how did GPS become so ubiquitous? Thanks to the leadership of the United States Air Force, which maintains and operates the GPS constellation, and long-standing U.S. policy, which makes GPS available as a vital public resource, any private sector company can design and build a receiver capable of listening for these GPS signals, without seeking the government’s approval or paying user fees. This freedom to innovate is at the heart of why GPS has been so successful and continues to drive innovation across our economy.

With the freedom to innovate, GPS receiver manufacturers have developed a range of advanced technologies to address market needs from the simple to the highly complex. These technologies reflect the inherent functional and technical differences between radio communications services and a navigation service like GPS.

Huge range of technologies. GPS receiver innovations enable a receiver to listen for a GPS signal that is less than a millionth of a billionth of a watt, while simultaneously resisting interference that is 10,000 times greater. Whether the GPS receiver is found in a tiny smartwatch or a 20-ton tractor, what they have in common is the ability to convert a faint radio signal into what we most commonly recognize as our current location displayed as a blue dot. They do this remarkably well.

Today’s regulatory landscape also correctly recognizes that every GPS-enabled application has unique requirements driven by intended function, environment and design factors. For example, a GPS receiver used for synchronizing financial transactions has different demands from a GPS receiver found in an autonomous vehicle. The former focuses on timing while the latter needs precise positioning to help maintain lane-level guidance.

Similarly, high-precision surveying equipment capable of delivering centimeter-level accuracy will no doubt have different receiver and antenna requirements than those found in a typical smartphone. The freedom to innovate enables GPS receiver manufacturers to support this market differentiation.

GPS resiliency. With many of our nation’s key critical infrastructure sectors dependent on GPS, there has been increasing discussion in Washington about the resiliency of GPS. Some have specifically expressed concern that a GPS jamming or spoofing attack could disrupt these key services and have advocated for new requirements on GPS receivers.

To be clear, GPS jammers and spoofers are illegal devices, designed specifically to interfere with GPS signals, either blocking the signal outright or emitting a fake signal in order to falsify one’s location. In either scenario, this interference occurs within a localized area from a detectable source. So, the reality is that mandates won’t stop a malicious actor intent on illegally interfering with GPS or another wireless technology, but vigorous enforcement of U.S. federal law can.

It is also important to remember that the GPS satellites are a multi-use U.S. military-civilian asset, supporting the mission of our armed forces, and have therefore been built with the highest levels of security and redundancy. Any attempts to attack the GPS constellation risks impacting not just civil services but the military signal as well.

Mission-critical applications. When it comes to resiliency, open innovation enables GPS receiver manufacturers to work with mission-critical application providers to develop products designed to meet their specific requirements. Different categories of users can and should define and specify performance and resiliency requirements appropriate for their applications.

For example, the requirements for a military GPS receiver are much more demanding than those for the receiver in an IoT device that reports its position hourly or daily. A military GPS receiver will, therefore, be significantly more expensive than an IoT receiver. Conversely, those who deploy internet of things (IoT) receivers will require low price points to support ubiquitous applications.

GPS manufacturers and applications developers have responded to market requirements by providing new and innovative techniques for increasing resilience, including designing receivers capable of receiving signals from multiple GNSS systems. This is the best way to ensure resilience — via application-specific requirements that are driven by customers who are most knowledgeable about their needs, not by general regulations or government fiat.

Preserving signal access. At the same time, the government does have a responsibility to investigate and take the necessary enforcement action to preserve unhindered reception of GPS signals. Vigorous enforcement of federal law by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and other government agencies — which already prohibits the manufacture, importation, marketing, sale and operation of GPS jammers — can keep these illegal devices out of the hands of those seeking to disrupt GPS operations. Such enforcement is critical to protecting our military operations, aviation and other safety-of-life applications.

Over the past three decades, worldwide adoption of robust, innovative GPS receivers attests to the trust users have placed in GPS as the gold standard for availability, accuracy, reliability and resiliency. Ensuring the freedom to continue innovating is vital to our global economy, job creation and ultimately to empowering the next generation of GPS-enabled applications.

About the GPS Innovation Alliance

The GPS Innovation Alliance was founded by Deere & Company, Garmin International Inc. and Trimble Inc. The Alliance recognizes the ever-increasing importance of GPS and other GNSS technologies to the global economy and infrastructure and is firmly committed to furthering GPS innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship. The GPS Innovation Alliance seeks to protect, promote and enhance the use of GPS. For more information, visit or follow @GPS4Life.

J. David Grossman serves as executive director of the GPS Innovation Alliance (GPSIA), an organization dedicated to protecting, promoting and enhancing the use of GPS. Prior to joining GPSIA, Grossman spent nearly a decade in public service, including as chief of staff to FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn; legislative director and senior advisor for technology policy to Rep. Anna Eshoo of Silicon Valley; and as technology counsel to the U.S. House Small Business Committee under the leadership of Rep. Nydia Velázquez.

Grossman holds a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from George Mason University and a B.A. in Political Communication from George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs.