Q&A from L5 and LightSquared Webinars

May 5, 2011  - By

In late March, I conducted a webinar titled “A Closer Look at L5: The Future of High-Precision GNSS,” in which I discussed the impact that the new GPS L5 signal/frequency may have on high-precision users. Then, in April I was part of a discussion panel-format webinar titled “LightSquared: Our Story So Far.” Many questions and comments arose from both webinars, and I’ll attempt to address those in this column.

First of all, the day after the March 17 webinar, I published a summary with some links and illustrations. If you want to review it to refresh your memory or get a quick overview if you didn’t attend the webinar, click here.

During the March 17 webinar, I conducted several polls. Following are the poll questions with accompanying pie charts to illustrate the results. I think polls are a great tool to gain a better understanding of what your colleagues are thinking.

Poll #1: Does your organization use dual frequency GPS (L1/L2) receivers?

Gakstatter comment: Nothing earth-shattering, but good to know most of the audience members polled are high-precision users.

Poll #2: When do you plan on upgrading your GPS receivers to take advantage of the new L2C and L5 signals?

Gakstatter comment: I think the large number of “I don’t know” answers is due to two major variables. #1 is the economy. If the economy was healthy, I think folks would be more inclined to take the risk upgrade to the latest technology. #2 is the unclear status of GPS and Galileo (and other GNSS). If there was a launch schedule that people knew they could count on and plan for, I think users would be more inclined to upgrade sooner rather than later.
Poll #3: Do you believe that GPS and Galileo will meet their projected deployment dates of 2014/2015?
Gakstatter comment: I understand the skepticism about GPS and Galileo staying on schedule. I don’t think the GPS schedule can push out too far because the FAA requires a full constellation of GPS satellites broadcasting L5 by 2019. The Galileo program is under a lot of pressure to deliver something to the user community. A very important milestone this year is the scheduled September launch of the first two operational Galileo satellites, followed by the launch of a second pair the first quarter of next year. This is an opportunity for the Galileo program to set a new tone and sense of urgency with the user community.
Poll #4: How concerned are you that LightSquared’s initiative might interfere with your GPS operations?
Gakstatter comment: Since the March 17 webinar, there’s been much more information released and published about LightSquared’s potential effect on GPS. In April, I participated in a webinar about LightSquared’s potential effect on GPS with my portion of the webinar specifically addressing high-precision users. I will discuss this later in this article. But, suffice to say that this is a serious issue for the U.S. high-precision GPS user community. LightSquared isn’t going to walk away from this without putting up a big fight, and they have enough of an argument that I could see the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) folding or trying to negotiate a compromise. However, any compromise is likely to have a negative effect on the high-precision GPS user community. Best case scenario, there would be a hit in signal strength. Worst case, you’ll need a hardware upgrade.
As I normally do, a number of questions were raised during the webinar and I will address them here to the best of my ability. I’ll start with the L5 questions and then address some of the questions regarding LightSquared that were asked from both the March and April webinar.

On to the Questions

Question #1: What impact will L5 have on RTK networks?

Gakstatter comment: Great question. There’s only upside in having another GPS frequency to work with. Since the premise behind RTK Networks relies heavily on atmospheric modeling, L5 is going to help. It’s further separated, with respect to frequency, from L1 than L2 and the signal is much stronger than L2. L5 will go a long way in mitigating the effects of the atmosphere on high-precision GPS positioning.

They logistics of implementing L5, by the manufacturers, into RTK Networks may not be so easy. I’m not sure that L5 has been defined well enough in the RTCM specifications and even if it was, I’m not sure how fast manufacturers would implement it. Take, for example, L2C. Even though there are eight satellites broadcasting L2C, I’m not sure there are any RTK Networks taking advantage of it and transparency between different rover manufacturers. However, my gut tells me that manufacturers will be more willing to jump on the L5 bandwagon with a sense of urgency due to the potential significant increase in receiver performance.

Question #2: What could be a better frequency combination in terms of acheiving higher sensitivities: L2C/L5 or L1/L5?

Gakstatter comment: This is another great question. Technically speaking, I’m guessing that L2C/L5 would be a higher-performing combination due to the significantly-improved code structure of L2C (longer code and improved error-correcting methods), which allows
the signal to be acquired and tracked better in tough GPS conditions such as under tree foliage.

Question #3: If I toggle on L2C in my current Trimble GNSS; that would give me an extra 8 SV broadcasting

Gakstatter comment: Good, creative thinking, but it doesn’t work that way. You are already using those eight satellites with L1 C/A and L2P. If you utilize L2C from those satellites, you’ll get some marginal gain in performance (assuming the reference station is broadcasting L2C info), but nothing like adding eight additional satellites.
Question #4: What accuracy can be expected from single frequency L5?

Gakstatter comment: It’s going to be better than L1 C/A due to the stronger signal strength (4 x more powerful than L2C) and much longer code structure (than even L2C). With SBAS corrections, we’re seeing about 60cm now with L1 C/A. It will probably be slightly better than that and definitely more robust positioning in marginal GPS conditions.

Question #5: What sort of base line distances can we expect to get with L5?

Gakstatter comment: Using L5 will definitely help with longer baselines, but baselines are already pretty long. Look at the distance between reference stations in RTK Networks today. Some are pushing 70-80km. Will they go longer than 100km? I’m not sure. That would be cool, lowering infrastructure costs of setting up and operating RTK Networks.

Question #6: Using RTK corrections the bandwidth requirements will increase with all these extra satellites will there be more efficient correction broadcast techniques like CMRx?

Gakstatter comment: I agree. I think there will need to be an efficient way of getting the data from reference network to rover. That either means using up more bandwidth on your mobile phone data plan (if you aren’t using UHF/VHF/Spread spectrum radios) or manufacturer’s inventing more efficient formats. 

Questions Regarding LightSquared


LS Question #1: LightSquared is going to filter their signal heavily until it will not interfere. They have too much invested to fail.

Gakstatter comment: I agree that LightSquared is not going to walk away from their huge investment. But even if they heavily filter the base transmitters (40,000 of them), I still think there will be some interference. The nature of high-precision GNSS receivers is that they have a wideband RF front-end to take into account better code tracking and accomodate other signals such as OmniSTAR and Starfire. 
Also, since LightSquared can’t control the design/production of the mobile phones that will use their system, each of the mobile phones can potentially be a “mobile GPS jammer”. It’s one thing to know the fixed location of each of the 40,000 transmitters, but how about the tens of thousand, hundreds of thousands or millions of mobile phones using the LightSquared infrastructure.

LS Question #2: What do you see as the future for OmniSTAR?

Gakstatter comment: Obviously, OmniSTAR and Starfire people must have major concerns since they are well within the LightSquared frequency spectrum. Ironically, OmniSTAR currently leases satellite bandwidth from LightSquared to broadcast their corrections.

I’m sure they are working on a solution, but I’m not privy to what the options they are considering.

Another option is another delivery method such as NTRIP over mobile phone networks.

LS Question #3: If the signal effects high precision users, it will also effect casual users(hunters, fishermen, and also field technicians – forestry inventory and utility asset mapping – will w ALL need to change the GPS devises currently used today?

Gakstatter comment: It won’t affect casual users as much as high-precision users due to the inherent design of the receivers. But, you’re right about forest inventory, utility mapping, etc. which typically use high-precision receivers. If LightSquared is allowed to continue on their desired path, it’s possible that each high-precision receiver would need to be upgraded (or traded in). That’s the worst-case scenario.

LS Question #4: Would better filters on the GPS receiver front-ends improve the concerns?

Gakstatter comment: Yes, but it’s not clear if high-precision receivers would perform as well with such filters designed into the receiver.


LS Question #5: Is the transmitter the cell phone or Lightsquare base station?

Gakstatter comment: This is a bit outside of my area, but both are transmitters. The LightSquared base stations are designed to broadcast at 1,500 watts while the mobile phone’s highest transmission power is probably 1-3 watts while it’s first connecting to the network. The base stations are transmitting at the band adjacent to GPS on the lower end while the mobile phones transmit in the adjacent band above the GPS. I look forward to reviewing the data in the next working group report to the FCC which includes interference testing from both base station transmitters as well as mobile phones.

LS Quest
ion #6: 
How does LightSquared affect L2C, if at all?

Gakstatter comment: From what I know and have read, I don’t think it would have any direct affect on L2 since L2 is at 1227MHz, far from LightSquared’s frequency spectrum of 1525MHz to 1559MHz. Indirectly, it would have an affect on L2P as L1/L2 receivers need L1 to utilize L2P. That’s not the case with L2C, but remember there are only eight satellites broadcasting L2C at this time.

Obviously, there is more to discuss. I didn’t touch on the affect on GLONASS receivers (yes, there is a potential problem too). The feedback I received from the LightSquared webinar is that many of you would like to have a webinar that is focused on LightSquared as it relates to the high-precision user (surveying, mapping, engineering, GIS, etc.). I plan to conduct such a webinar in early June. Stayed tuned for the announcement. Hopefully, I’ll have some interesting new data to present from the report due to the FCC on May 15.

Lastly, I attended NOAA’s Space Weather Workshop last week in Boulder, Colorado. I plan on a more comprehensive write-up, but in the mean-time you can check out my Geospatial Solutions Weekly newsletter with some info on my visit there. I’m still working on a GPS space weather notification system I wrote about last summer. I’m getting closer to having something for you.

Thanks, and see you next time.

Follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/GPSGIS_Eric

This article is tagged with , , , and posted in Opinions, Survey