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Blog Editor’s Note: It is good to see industry coming together like this.

RNT Foundation decided to sign this letter with members of industry, some of which are our members, some are not, because it does not promote an individual technology or company. Rather it reinforces the work and findings of the Department of Transportation.


Industry members, non-profit urge Congress to fund GPS alternatives

March 22, 2021  – By 

In separate letters to members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, seven companies and a non-profit urged Congress to support alternative positioning, navigation and timing systems (PNT) with the “necessary funds and other appropriate policy tools.”

Signing the letter were NextNavUrsaNavSatelles, Hellen Systems, OPNT, OroliaMicrochip, and the non-profit Resilient Navigation and Timing Foundation (RNTF).

The letters focus on and endorse the system-of-systems approach outlined in the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) recent report to Congress on the results of its GPS Backup Technology Demonstration. The report found an adequate and robust American PNT system should include space-based L-band signals, low-frequency (LF) and ultra-high-frequency (UHS) signals, and fiber connections between the terrestrial LF and UHF transmitters.

“Our country depends on GPS for critical infrastructure, and there is an urgent need for resiliency being built into our critical infrastructure. Before the report came out, some of us had different ideas of how the U.S. should go forward,” said Ganesh Pattabiraman, CEO of NextNav. “But the DOT report provided the data to make it very clear that it is a combination of technologies that need to come together to truly enable nationwide backup to GPS, and it was good to see we could get industry alignment on the findings.”

The letters describe many of the threats to GPS, both natural and malicious; its vulnerabilities; and the dire consequences of disruptions. They go on to state that robust, more reliable PNT is needed for emerging and future systems like E911, 5G, resilient electrical grids, drones and other automated systems.

Monty Johnson, CEO of OPNT, a provider of time-over-fiber services, praised the findings of the DOT report. “The key to resilience and reliability in a system-of-systems is including technologies that deliver the same information using starkly different means. It is hard to imagine a combination of technologies that are more diverse than fiber, satellites, LF and UHF.”

According to Pattabiraman, the signers of the letter agree that the DOT report made clear that there are mature technologies available today that can address the GPS backup issue. DOT and Congress now have the data to act to enable a much-needed resilient infrastructure for the country.

Dana A. Goward, president of the non-profit RNT Foundation, agreed. He also observed that deciding on the technologies and congressional funding were important, but only first steps. “The goal of this effort is not to just implement systems,” he said. “it’s to make America safer. Establishing the services quickly and efficiently will be key, as will ensuring they are widely adopted.”

“Protecting the nation from the consequences of a space-based PNT disruption will require that these systems be accessed and used by a wide variety of users from first responders and delivery services, to all forms of critical infrastructure,” Goward said. “This means the government will need to eliminate as many barriers to adoption as possible. One or more of these alternatives has to be available to every American. And a basic level of service has to be free, just like the GPS utility it is reinforcing. Fortunately, we estimate this can be done relatively inexpensively. It will be only a small fraction of the $1.7B we spent on GPS last year.”

The alternative to making this relatively modest investment, according to Goward, is unacceptable.

“There are lots of threats to GPS,” he said. “Take the sun for example. The most recent study I saw estimates a 70% chance solar activity will damage the GPS constellation in the next 30 years and a 20% chance it will destroy a big part of it. And the sun is just one of the threats we face. We can’t keep playing this kind of Russian Roulette with the fate of our nation. Especially when other countries like Russia and China have already taken steps to protect themselves with terrestrial systems.”

A copy of the letter sent to Senators can be found here, and the one to members of the House of Representatives here.