There’s been a spate of stories recently about how we’re over-reliant on GPS, and while some threats are overblown, GPS jamming can be more serious, especially on the scale tentatively approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Wha? Read on my friend…
GPS jammers like the one pictured below are illegal in the US, and with good reason. GPS signals are extremely weak. Broadcast on the same frequency and it’s easy to overwhelm receivers for many miles around you. The FCC is finally cracking down on the sale of these devices, but I’m betting there are hundreds if not thousands out there in the US alone. For more information, check out this excellent article on GPS jammers that New Scientist posted earlier this week.
LightSquared is a company planning to delivery wireless broadband services via satellite. Unfortunately it operates in the L-band frequencies adjacent to those used by GPS. Many members of the GPS industry were surprised (and probably caught off guard) when the FCC gave tentative approval to LightSquared’s plans, signing off on what is tantamount to GPS jamming on a massive nationwide scale. Normal process was apparently circumvented, possibly due to political favors. Garmin’s tests have shown jamming at 3.57 to 13.76 miles from a LightSquared transmitter and complete loss of fix from 0.66 to 5.6 miles away. Even the US Air Force thinks the FCC is way off base here. A new industry group, the Coalition to Save Our GPS, has been formed. A final report from an industry working group is due to the FCC by June 15, 2011, but by then much of LightSquared’s network will have already been constructed.
FCC asleep at the wheel
It looks to me like the biggest threat to GPS is coming from its owners – the US government. An FCC that just recently woke up to the threat posed by jammers goes and approves the biggest jamming system ever?! Somebody in DC needs a wake up call, and we know who it is…