Never Again? Oh, Again and Again.

February 22, 2012  - By
Image: GPS World

When the last English inhabitant of Virginia’s Lost Colony succumbed to hunger or swamp fever or local assimilation in 1588, Chesapeake chief Powhatan may have turned to his council and said, “Well, that’s the last of that. No more will we be troubled by outsiders infringing on our territory. Let’s get back to doing what we do best.”

That would have been a monumental mistake, of course. Wave upon wave upon wave of outsiders followed, building over course of time the entity we now know as the United States and leaving precious little for the land’s original inhabitants.

Let us now contemplate ourselves as the original holders, by right, of spectrum bands at 1176.45 MHz (L5), 1227.60 MHz (L2), 1381.05 MHz (L3), and 1575.42 MHz (L1). We have repelled the LightSquared encroachers, who sought to appropriate, well, not exactly our bands, but bands close enough to cause trouble. Having expended many millions in the effort, we can now return to our various businesses, secure in having demonstrated both our rights and our rightness.

No, we cannot afford to do that.

Radio spectrum is today’s natural resource, vital to current ventures and even more essential to future business and national growth of all kinds. It is far too valuable to be taken for granted, and far too vulnerable to be left protected simply by the Plan A recently demonstrated.

We will see attempt upon attempt upon attempt to use closely neighboring spectra in disturbing ways — and, I daresay, even to dislodge GNSS from the bands it now holds. Petitions to redistribute, reallocate, and/or redefine spectra. Treaties, if you will. Students of history know how that goes.

Digging in deeper will not answer. It is questionable even now whether the numbers of GPS installed user base or the dollars they represent were sufficient to turn back the LightSquared initiative. It may have been, purely and simply, the Pentagon and the FAA.

At any rate, the millions of installed GPS users and billions of dollars in industry and infrastructure may soon be dwarfed by billions of potential users and gazillions in economic benefit that broadband or any other spectrum-driven enterprise may muster. Just as the numbers of Native Americans were quickly and vastly overcome by Europe’s teeming masses.

Two courses lie immediately open to the GPS community, and there may be more.

  1. Participate actively, pro-actively, even aggressively — and certainly with no time to waste — in the effort to define receiver standards. The NTIA and PNT EXCOM will devise “standards for the development and procurement of GPS receivers to support their various mission requirements.” NTIA recognized “the importance that receiver standards could play as part of a forward-looking model for spectrum management even beyond the immediate issue of GPS.”
    Get on board, bring productive ideas, work them through the process as efficiently and cooperatively as possible. Then design new products accordingly. Regulatory agencies, national and international, will have little patience with broadened use of other bands, no matter how long high-precision receivers have been doing it. We have been put on notice.
  2. Aid, encourage, design products for interoperable GNSS, not to mention modernized GPS, particularly L5. Seek touchpoints with Galileo, GLONASS, and Compass developers, operators, and manufacturers. The broader, more wide-laned the base, the more frequencies that users and equipment can draw on, the more stable will be their operations, and the less vulnerable to encroachment, interference, or downright exclusion.

Perhaps you have thought of other ways to ensure GNSS viability in a future of increasing demands for spectrum. I would love to hear them, and share them with our readers.

This article is tagged with , and posted in Opinions

About the Author: Alan Cameron

Alan Cameron is the former editor-at-large of GPS World magazine.