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Out in Front: GPS World, 20 Years Young

January 1, 2010  - By

GPSW_20th_LogoThis magazine, the very one you hold in your hand or peruse digitally, hereby celebrates its 20th birthday. Hooray!

Since its inception in 1989 and first appearance in the public eye in 1990, GPS World has provided — and continues to provide — technical and business information on global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) to engineers, product designers, manufacturers, researchers, system developers, executives, and high-level managers around the world who incorporate global positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) technologies into their corporate strategies, operations, and product offerings to maximize profit and performance.

Many things have changed since our birth: changes in the world, changes in GPS itself and now in GNSS, and changes in this magazine.

The book has repositioned itself over the years from its early focus on applications to the present comprehensive yet detailed grasp of design concepts at both the space system and integrated circuit level.

We can still say, as Glen Gibbons wrote in the inaugural issue, “Perhaps the most remarkable thing about GPS today is the enthusiasm that we find

everywhere among people involved with the field. We want to share that enthusiasm with our readers. GPS — our world and welcome to it.”

Double-Decade Insights

Langley_new-mug_REV_lmRichard Langley: in the fall of 1989, GPS World’s founding editor, Glen Gibbons, approached Dave Wells, Alfred Kleusberg, and me — faculty members in the then Department of Surveying Engineering at the University of New Brunswick — about editing a “technology/product development column” in a new magazine. Since readers would have marked differences in their knowledge and expertise in the GPS area, “the column should deal with issues that have broad application and interest and are presented in terms that are accessible to as wide a range of readers as possible,” he wrote. The column was to be called simply Innovation.

We decided that Alfred Kleusberg and I would manage the column, with Dave Wells serving as one of the inaugural members of the magazine’s Editorial Advisory Board. I took over sole responsibility for the column in 1997.

Many Innovation columns have been tutorials including the one in the very first issue of the magazine. Written by Dave Wells and Alfred Kleusberg and titled “GPS: A Multipurpose System,” it used three different positioning scenarios to explain how GPS could provide positioning accuracies all the way from a Selective Availability-constrained 100 meters down to the sub-centimeter level. It also outlined GPS’s ability to determine platform attitude with multiple antennas and its use for accurate time transfer.

The Innovation column has run continuously in every issue of the magazine except for August and December, when it gives way to the Almanac GNSS information pages. Next April’s column will be the 200th!

Ed Aster, Founding Publisher: 20 Years Ago, GPS World almost didn’t happen. The idea of a magazine focussed on an unknown technology shrouded in military guise was turned down by 10 publishers before the idea was thrown at me while developing our international offices in Chester, England. It immediately made sense, as long as you had long eyes. A technology that has changed the world almost as much as the invention of the telephone. Who woulda thought. GPS leads the world and allows all countries to benefit from its quite simple premise, “Where am I?”

GPS World: That Was Then

During the last decade of the 20th century, the U.S. Global Positioning System achieved full operational capability. Prior to and after that key 1995 event, the technology saw active use and growth, primarily in the fields of surveying, mapping, and high-precision positioning. The technology most often took the form of a GPS receiver, frequently a stand-alone box, although active research and development into smaller form factors and integration with other technologies began.

A 1996 Presidential Decision Directive reiterated GPS’ global availability for peaceful use. Russia’s GLONASS became irregularly active.

Marking the practical — that is, the true — start of the GNSS era, the first integrated GPS+GLONASS RTK surveying system appeared in 1997: the GG-24 from Ashtech. The first GPS IIR (for replenishment) satellite rose that year, proving that satnav was not only here to stay, but to improve.

Europe’s Galileo became a topic of earnest discussion.

Double-Decade Insights

McNeff_Jules_boxJules McNeff: Twenty Years ago, GPS was just a promise. The first Block II satellite was not yet a year old. GPS was known to only a few. It had not contributed to victory on the battlefield; it had not revolutionized earth science nor changed the way businesses and people conduct their daily activities. Now it has done all of that. It has awakened a global awareness of precise and ubiquitous position and time and of their value as essential elements of every human endeavor.

I look forward to its next 20 years with the same anticipation and excitement I felt then.

GerardLachapelleGerard Lachapelle: The Launch of the Block II satellites, starting in February 1989 after a hiatus of more than three years, was the most remarkable, exciting news of the time. By January 1990, six satellites had been launched with four more to come throughout 1990, an impressive accelerated schedule that had a major impact on equipment manufacturers, technology, performance, and users. It accelerated investments in research and development, and in long-term planning of major users and suppliers of positioning services.

GPS would be a reality! The world has never been the same since!

First Advertisers

These companies advertised in the inaugural January 1990 issue — and we thank them!

Three Full Pages

  • Ashtech

Two Full Pages

  • Trimble

Full Page

  • McDonnell Douglas
  • Magellan
  • Geodimeter
  • Wild Leitz
  • Interstate Electronics Corp.
  • Ball Aerospace
  • Oscilloquartz
  • Navstar
  • Stanford Telecom
  • Plessey/ITT
  • GE Astro Space
  • Odetics
  • CAST
  • ITT Defense

Fractional Ads: Holden GPS, Sensor Systems, Racal, Alcatel, FTS/Austron, Allen Osborne Associates, Datum, McIntosh & McIntosh, Intermetrics, Piezo Crystal, Van Martin Systems, Navtech Seminars, GEOSurv.

Map these companies onto their present names/ownership and enter to win the editor’s Happy Anniversary to Us Prize! Send your answers to

GPS World: This is Now

During the first decade of the 21st century, the GPS industry entered early maturity and saw action in an ever-increasing number of fields: avionics, transportation, wireless communication, burgeoning consumer devices, and location-based services. Emphasis in product design shifted to the board and chip level, and GPS chips began “disappearing inside the application,” going inside other boxes fo
r integration with other technologies.

GLONASS declined, then rose again; Galileo got underway in fits and starts; international regional augmentations began.

GPS World held its first Summit for 1001 GNSS VIPs with a top-level panel during the 2002 ION-GNSS conference, and a second Summit in 2004. It became the Leadership Dinner in 2006, with a Great Debate in 2007, a GNSS Election in 2008, and Brad Parkinson’s “True History of the Origins of GPS” in 2009. In each case, proceedings were subsequently shared with all our readers.

The magazine became more than a magazine, redesigning its website to track developments in ever-diverging industry sectors, and launching e-mail newsletters focused on these specialized interests, followed by discussion forums, webinars, video interviews, job listings, and more.

Double-Decade Insights

ashkenazi_vidal_boxVidal Ashkenazi: As a geodesist, I consider GPS as the natural follow-on to satellite triangulation-trilateration and Transit Doppler (in the 1960s), when navigation and timing were added to straight positioning, and geodetic concepts of accuracy and reliability (renamed integrity) were adopted. We still had some difficulties in convincing the navigation community of the need to adopt a precise geodetic coordinate system (like WGS84), instead of just latitudes and longitudes.

The imposition of Selective Availability led civilian ingenuity to come up with differential GPS, carrier-phase, and RTK. Who could have predicted in the 1990s that countless GPS applications would develop, benefiting business, governments and citizens everywhere?

StephenC_BOXStephen Colwell: I started GPS World back in 1989. With a $1,200 investment and business plan in hand, I struggled through 43 investor presentations until finally receiving an approval nod for funds to launch the magazine. What I remember most during these times was invariably a potential investor would say “Now explain this to me again — what is GPS, and why does it need a magazine?”


These memoirs come from founding members of our Editorial Advisory Board who still serve in that capacity! Jules McNeff is now vice president, strategy and programs, Overlook Systems Technologies; Gérard Lachapelle is professor and CRC/iCORE chair in wireless location, Department of Geomatics Engineering, University of Calgary; Vidal Ashkenazi is CEO, Nottingham Scientific Ltd. Other advisors still on board from that first issue are Paul Cross, Larry Hothem, William Klepczynski, Keith McDonald, and Brad Parkinson.Richard Langley is, as ever, a professor of geodesy and geomatics at the University of New Brunswick; Ed Aster is a vineyard owner and entrepreneur in New Zealand; Stephen Colwell writes a monthly e-mail column on the Consumer OEM sector; Glen Gibbons is a publisher in his own write, familiar to many readers.

GPS World: Behold the Future

Alan-CameronIn this nascent decade, the GNSS industry will enter its full maturity as truly an indispensable utility for everyday life, at individual consumer, industrial enterprise, and government organization levels. Multi-technology circuitry, which now integrates positioning with other capabilities on a single chip, will only continue its astonishing march.

Galileo and GLONASS will achieve their promise, and Compass will join the family, forming together with GPS a veritable system of systems with highly accessible and accurate coverage and availability even in challenging environments. GPS itself will modernize, strengthen, and expand its considerable capabilities.

As ever, GPS World will be there, up close and personal with the technology and the business, providing eyewitness accounts by researchers, product designers, program managers, and end users.

The magazine will continue serving its international readers and advertisers, accomplishing its mission through an integrated information system of print, e-mail newsletters, websites, webinars, and videos, all communicating critical intelligence to decision-makers and technical experts.

GPS World’s media platform, designed for and dedicated to industry’s use, is a searchable, application-specific knowledge base of GPS/GNSS-related technologies that is mapped to the markets and needs of the community’s core purchasing audience.

Despite its name — and names may change — the magazine has never limited itself to coverage of the U.S. Global Positioning System. We chronicle the development of all GNSS: Galileo, GLONASS, and Compass; of augmentations WAAS, EGNOS, MSAS, NDGPS, QZSS, GAGAN, and GRAS. We track the integration of GNSS with other PNT technologies, such as inertial, laser, Loran, and radio frequency fields such as wireless communications, RFID, Bluetooth, ultra-wideband, and others.

While busy writing and talking, we are also busy listening. We encourage online comments to articles appearing at We’ve started one technical discussion forum, Tech Talk, and plan to have another, on chip and circuitry design, flying within months. We administer a LinkedIn network for GNSS professionals to communicate interests, leads, queries, referrals, and open positions; our Facebook page enables members to create unique user content to build meaningful and resource-full discussion.

We have unparalleled personal reach in every industry sector. You’ll find one or more of GPS World’s dozen correspondents and business development consultants at every important technical and business conference. Come right up and give us a piece of your mind. Please.

GNSS — your world. We feel privileged to play a key part in it. — Alan Cameron, Editor-in-Chief



About the Author:

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

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