We Need to Protect and Strengthen GPS, says Brad Parkinson, 2016 Marconi Fellow

By Hatti Hamlin

Stanford Professor Emeritus Brad Parkinson has spent his life developing and improving GPS—an often uphill battle, but one he’s consistently won.  Now he worries that the global utility he’s spent almost his entire career building could be at risk from malicious new technology designed to jam GPS signals deliberately, as well as from inadvertent signal “spillover” if the FCC repurposes adjacent radio spectrum to powerful earth based transmitters.

Parkinson discussed his concerns with Ira Flatow on Science Friday May 20th (see more at http://www.sciencefriday.com/person/bradford-parkinson/), telling him this is a real threat to a huge number of GPS-dependent industries. (GPS jamming could close down major ports, for example).

Moving too fast on the repurposing also presents a threat of disruption to Scientific and Emergency Providers who now depend on the GPS system many times daily.  That’s what Parkinson told the PNT Advisory Board in Washington DC recently, urging the government to “go slowly” on any proposed spectrum allocation changes. http://rntfnd.org/2016/05/20/proposal-that-could-degrade-gps-help-us-this-weekend-with-comments-to-the-fcc/

Some solutions are already underway.  Additional GPS signals at different frequencies are being broadcast.  Additional GPS-like systems are being built in Europe and elsewhere, which will make it harder to intentionally or unintentionally disrupt GPS.  There are also ways to strengthen radio receivers to make them more immune to jamming, though these need to become more affordable.

“There are literally scores of critical uses of GPS,” Parkinson says. “If a user cannot lock up on the signal, both productivity and safety will be in jeopardy. It is imperative that the FCC carefully analyze impacts on the 2 billion GPS users before authorizing any change in adjacent radio bands.”