Excitement at ION

September 28, 2011  - By
Image: GPS World

During the Institute of Navigation Satellite Division conference (ION GNSS 2011), I may have made a major mistake by being dragged kicking and screaming into the controversy that dominated its opening days.

Excitement can be a relative term — if the sheer panic, and doom and gloom of what appears to be an impossible situation could be termed excitement. The dominating issue throughout the Tuesday CGSIC meeting, and in the conference rooms, corridors, and on the floor of the exhibition and technical conference later in the week, was clearly the LIghtSquared (LS) waiver situation. While well-intended presenters at CGSIC rolled out their news, an off-hand comment or question from the audience seemed to pull us all back to the LS threat to the GPS spectrum.

An informed estimate of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other government testing costs indicated that this so-called distraction has already consumed millions of dollars — to the government. That does not encompass the monumental efforts and expenses on the part of industry. While LS has now moved the goal-posts again, and a whole suite of re-testing has been mandated before the next impossible-to-achieve milestone in November.

Alan Cameron actually sang a presentation to the accompaniment of the Sonny and Cher song, ‘United we stand, divided we fall, and if our backs should ever be against the wall,” to CGISIC attendees. I’m not even sure he mentioned LightSquared, but we all got the message. I guess this community does feel that it has been lined up against the wall, preparatory to what seems to be an inevitable blindfold and execution.

However, by the end of the panel discussion on Wednesday evening, Tom Stansell and LightSquared’s Martin Harriman had us all convinced that there was nothing to worry about. Even-handed management and screening of written questions from the floor helped us all believe that the audience felt a solution could be at hand. I think the mood swing that seemed to permeate the audience might have helped us lose a little track of some of the major impediments, impediments that have neither disappeared nor changed with the current LS “30dBm-lower 10” proposal.

For instance, Iridium, Inmarsat, Omnistar, and Starfire may all need to re-think how they can still operate alongside high-power terrestrial transmitters in their MSS band.

I heard the views of Pat Fenton — one of the key technical leaders in this industry — criticized as being less than positive: that we risk losing the potential performance of high-precision receivers on which Pat has based his career and the fortunes of NovAtel. I really think we should consider this as critical.

One speaker implied, what’s 1dB or 6dB and a little in-band jamming anyway? The groans I heard coming from the FAA delegation at the end of my seat-row seemed to indicate a different opinion.

At this point, we had only reached day two of the conference. Reality crept further back in fo rthe delegates as they gathered for subsequent full day and further discussiuobs. Certainly sober thoughts seemed to re-emerge from those people I talked to on the floor of the exhibition: “We still have a problem here, Batman!”

Losing the business that the correction-distribution guys have in the MSS band might not be recognized as being that important to people with other interests. At the same time, jamming Compass and part of GLONASS within the United States so that North American don’t get access to all those extra satellites that the rest of the world will benefit from, may seem a distant and unlikely prospect.  Beware, beware.

We’ve spent 25-odd years creating a multi-million dollar GNSS industry that supports a satellite navigation infrastructure used around the globe by hundreds of billions of people, for millions of different applications. Now we face the threat that someone will destroy or severely limit future GNSS growth so everyone in the United States will have the ability to text continuously while driving?

What’s going on here??!!??

Fortunately, I had the other side of the conference to fall back on: the enthusiastic, innovative and apparently healthy business climate that the exhibitors and most of the attendees brought with them to Portland. Attendance iwas up 10 percent on last year to around 1,400 delegates, and the 144 booths of 91 exhibitors are back up to 2009 levels. so we’re well into recovery, it would seem.

I would not say that I saw lots of new stuff this year at ION, but there are new product launches and there are new innovations — it’s just that they were more evolutionary rather than breakthrough. Javad Ashjaee might challenge this view and claim that his new LightSquared-Protected/Compensated/Integrated receiver design is revolutionary. But filters are not really new and likely don’t solve the loss of available signals, and this approach does not protect the millions of existing receivers from multiple manufacturers that are already out there. Good business for him, though, if it works at $300–800 a pop! (Upps, I got dragged back into that black hole again!)

IFEN has new GNSS simulators and a growing, viable business, and Septentrio looks very healthy with the introduction of its new AsteRx-m receiver — both companies apparently borne out of the European industrial policy behind EGNOS and Galileo. More on this at another time.

Trimble has a new RTK correction service that is operational in agriculture in the U.S. Midwest, and Hemisphere introduced its S320 GNSS Survey receiver, data collector and survey software package.

GNSS Technologies has apparently found a new way to tackle the indoor nav problem: simply embed IMES chips in buildings that each broadcast the location of the room where they are installed. Your receiver gets a position for the room you’re in, and the next room, and the corridor as you progress through the building. Possibly quite accurate enough for first responders to navigate the building, or to locate someone in a particular room in a building. Neat idea.

Locata worked its indoor location demo endlessly throughout the conference as attendee interest exceeded their expectations. NovAtel introduced a scintillation monitor/TEC receiver to join its wide product inventory, along with the GAJT anti-jam adaptive antenna that finally made its ION debut.

This has just been a short snapshot of some of the new stuff and the excitement that always surrounds an ION conference. Snapshots are always incomplete and only capture part of the picture, so my apologies to those companies I didn’t mention – there were after all 91 companies exhibiting, as I said earlier.

Thank goodness that the industry is still pouring on the investment in R&D and we’re still moving forward!

If only we can maintain our focus on creating new business instead of working though expensive distractions that divert money and energy, and undermine the very basis of our industry.

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About the Author: Tony Murfin

Tony Murfin is managing consultant for GNSS Aerospace LLC, Florida. Murfin provides business development consulting services to companies involved in GNSS products and markets, and writes for GPS World as the OEM Professional contributing editor. Previously, Murfin worked for NovAtel Inc. in Calgary, Canada, as vice president of Business Development; for CMC Electronics in Montreal, Canada, as business development manager, product manager, software manger and software engineer; for CAE in Montreal as simulation software engineer; and for BAe in Warton, UK, as senior avionics engineer. Murfin has a B.Sc. from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology in the UK, and is a UK Chartered Engineer (CEng MIET).