Feds Moving to Improve Civil GPS Signals

FRAMINGHAM (05/01/2000) - The U.S. White House today plans to improve the accuracy of signals available to civilian users from Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites to as close as 10 meters from the current 100 meters as part of a move that one industry consultant said would have "huge implications" for myriad GPS applications, including increasingly popular automobile navigation systems.

The enhancement of the civil GPS signal comes just one week before the start of the International Telecommunications Union's World Radio Conference (WRC) in Turkey, where the U.S. will battle a new, satellite positioning system backed by the member states of the European Union and mobile satellite system operators for scarce global spectrum.

A White House source said President Clinton is expected to announce at 2 p.m. today an end to the practice by which the Department of Defense - which designed and developed the $10 billion GPS system - intentionally degraded the civil signal to an accuracy of 100 meters from accuracies of 10 to 20 meters available to military users.

The Pentagon has maintained for years that it needed to degrade the civil signal in order to deny the highly accurate military signals to potential adversaries. Development of GPS hammers has eased these concerns, according to military sources.

Richard Langley, a GPS consultant and professor of geodesy at the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, said the "significance of this decision is huge. .

. . it will affect a large number of GPS application areas."

Langley said automobile navigation systems - which feed GPS signals into a moving map display - would see an immediate gain from the improved GPS signal.

"Right now, with 100-meter (accuracy), you might not even be positioned on the right map in the display . . .; with the (degradation) turned off, those kind of map-matching errors will be significantly reduced," he said.

Langley added that the decision to provide highly accurate GPS signals to civil users could also improve the U.S. position at the multinational WRC, which starts next week and runs through June. "This move definitely put the U.S. in a more favorable light" in competition with the proposed European Union-backed "Galileo" satellite positioning system and mobile satellite service providers in the global battle for spectrum, Langley said.

An official at the White House Office of Science Technology Policy, who declined to be identified, said the availability of improved civil GPS signals would be almost immediate, with the military degradation of the civil signal slated to end at midnight tonight.

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