Inside GNSS: Engineering Solutions from the Global Navigation Satellite System Community
GPS Galileo Glonass BeiDou Regional/Augmentation
Inside Unmanned Systems
Thought Leadership Series

Thinking Aloud


Editorial from the first issue of Inside GNSS, January 2006:

Until now, positioning has been a lot like the weather: everybody talked about it, but nobody did anything about it.
They couldn’t.
Not practically, not without affordable, accessible tools and the techno-cultural sensibilities to bring it about.
But this first decade of the 21st century may prove to be the Axial Age of the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) community. Four systems, developed by four political and economic powers, are in various states of maturity and robustness.
The signals used by GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou, and several regional and augmentation systems are the lingua franca for satellite based positioning, navigation, and timing.
This magazine is dedicated to speaking the new language of GNSS, in the hopes that we can create the community’s Rosetta Stone (and avoid the Tower of Babel.)
Thinking Aloud is my chance, in each issue, to help that process along.

Glen G. Gibbons, editor and publisher

September/October 2017

Ensuring PNT for All

We can probably assume that the trend toward GNSS disruption will only get worse.

July/August 2017

Turn NextGen into ThisGen

NextGen is a moving target being shot at from a moving platform.

May/June 2017

Get Galileo on Board

Compelling arguments exist for granting Galileo a waiver from FCC licensing requirements.

March/April 2017

Is That All There Is to GPS?

It’s an increasingly hard-power world, but successfully addressing global problems necessarily requires soft as well as hard solutions.

January/February 2017

No Sudden Moves

Perhaps it will be enough to mention that Twitter ultimately depends on effective and stable GPS timing. (Yes, we can assert that caveat in far less than 140 characters.)

November/December 2016

Exit, Pursued by a Bear

If P.T. Barnum — better known to later generations for his traveling circuses than his political acumen — could find nobility amid his gaudy business and personal style, we should not abandon all hope.

September/October 2016

Changing the Rules

Taken out of context, Ligado’s reworked broadband proposal might seem logical, even practical. GNSS is a positioning technology. If the positioning quality is unaffected, there shouldn’t be a problem. No harm, no foul, right?

July/August 2016

GNSS Doldrums

The tortoises of the GNSS race are looking more like thoroughbreds.

May/June 2016

Re-Baseline This!

What in other quarters is known as moving the goalposts has become a way of life for GPS.

March/April 2016

Up in the AIRR

The commercial airlines, once free of federal regulation, abandoned smaller airports, painfully compressed seating, and attached fees to every formerly free service they could break out from the ticket price.

January/February 2016

Making Good Better

Rather than highlighting the inadequacies and vulnerabilities of GNSS, the wide-ranging efforts to augment, supplement, and improve on it actually underline the centrality of space-based systems for modern PNT capabilities.

November/December 2015

Failure to Communicate

Its inaction on authorizing use of foreign GNSS signals makes one wonder
what the FCC would do if it was in charge of the air itself, rather
than just the airwaves. 

September/October 2015

Let Us Now Praise

As last year’s disappearance of Flight MH370 reminded us, the Indian
Ocean region in which IRNSS operates is large and largely unchartered.
So, too, the Western Pacific surveyed by QZSS.

July/August 2015

Premature Farewell to GPS

Having set what many in the Defense Department call the Gold Standard of PNT, it would be a shame to see a “Defexit” from GPS.

May/June 2015

Still Not a Thing, Part 2

The National Transportation Safety Board has included positive train control on its “Most Wanted List” every year since 1990. Why is this still not a thing in 2015?

March/April 2015

Flying Blind

Thirty years after GPS was made available for civil aviation we still
have not reached the Promised Land of mandatory, real-time tracking of
airliners over the oceans.

January/February 2015

The Party Crashers

The latest incursion of the Federal Communications Commission into GNSS
affairs is more than annoying — it’s potentially ruinous for U.S.

November/December 2014

Year 10

If humans had six fingers per hand and foot, would we be inclined to the
duodecimal and become whizzes at fractions and closer friends with

September/October 2014

A Learning Experience

The Galileo satellite launch failure is not really an unmitigated disaster, and in the long run several good things will probably come out of this.

July/August 2014

The Next Big Mac

The ISEE-3 Reboot Project is probably the best use of an abandoned McDonald’s hamburger stand that I’ve heard of.

May/June 2014

Papering Over Safety Gaps

The idea of a federal agency requiring life-critical information be sent to state officials who have no plans for using it does not represent the finest moment for governance in America.

March/April 2014

Paternity Suit

We must acknowledge the reality of — and debt owed to — the GPS
C/A-code’s historical precedence, its persistent utility, and its
incorporation into the more than one billion GNSS receivers in use

January/February 2014

Won’t Get Fooled Again

How about these New Year’s resolutions: admit GPS is critical infrastructure, support multi-GNSS monitoring, ensure location privacy for citizens, and figure out a real backup for PNT.

November/December 2013

GLONASS: Not a Red Menace

The real GNSS danger from Russia is protectionism, not espionage.

September/October 2013

Peer-to-Peer Counseling

Gaming GNSS is in its infancy and poses an enormous temptation to malfeasance.

July/August 2013

Phones, Drones and Privacy

The conduct of federal officials in the matter of phone and email records inevitably will taint public opinion about civil domestic use of UAS.

May/June 2013

Living in an APNT World

It’s no longer just a question of simply eliminating systems from the PNT mix and closing redundant operations. 

March/April 2013

Droning On about UAVs

The latest Orwellian theme: “The sky isn’t falling — it’s watching!”

January/February 2013

The GNSS Merry Go Round

The temptation to shape regulatory measures, market initiatives, or
technology development in ways that unfairly benefit one’s own program
battles the idea that we are all in this together, or should be.

November/December 2012

Our Harvest Being Gotten In

We give thanks for those new initiatives, yet unseen or unborn, stirring throughout the world of GNSS.

September/October 2012

Fractured GNSS Fairy Tales

It’s free, it’s worked great — without
failure, really — for nearly 20 years, and it has delivered to the
world’s citizens an affordable, accurate, and widely available
capability for precise location and timing unprecedented in human

July/August 2012

Can Congress Rescue Itself?

May/June 2012

IP Rights and Wrongs

people have tried to reinvent the wheel, but no one has gotten into a patent
fight over it.

March/April 2012

LightSquared Lessons Learned

The regulatory phase of the GPS/LightSquared controversy appears to be winding down, and the litigation phase warming up.

January/February 2012

GPS - The DoD's Profit Center

What began, in the words of the Defense Department, as a “force enhancer” has become an economy enhancer of enormous value.

November/December 2011

Oh No! Not LightSquared Again!

Only the backing of a billion-dollar hedge fund operating in the plutocracy that America’s political system has become enables LightSquared to dominate this conversation.

September/October 2011

Worst GPS President Ever?

Common sense and due diligence would seem to call for holding off on rolling out LightSquared’s system until further tests can be conducted.

July/August 2011

The Fire Next Time

The GPS community needs a continuing, effective organization to prepare for the next attack on its hard-won equities.

May/June 2011

A Target — Possibly Moving

The FCC’s new report repudiates the principle that latecomers to an RF band must ensure their operations do not harm existing users.

March/April 2011

Can You Hear Us Now?

Like questionable genealogies that trace one’s roots back to some royal family or other, the LightSquared arguments beg the question of what its initiative means in the near future.

January/February 2011

Your Signal Is My Noise

In the absence of solid agreements on how to achieve compatible, interoperable services, the addition of signals becomes a bane, not a boon, to users of any and all GNSS systems.

November/December 2010

World Wide GNSS

Ultimately, the really interesting aspects of Internet and GNSS innovations come in their combination, not their separation.

October 2010

Launch Fever

We are enjoying the fruits of almost invisible labor - the efforts of
those who put satellites into the sky and signals on the air.

September 2010

The Missing ICD

Release of an ICD would be good for both the Compass program and the community of GNSS receiver designers and end users who are looking for the additional signal resources that the Chinese system can bring.

July/August 2010

Interesting. Too Interesting?

More systems, more satellites, more signals — A conservative
estimate totals 441 different modes that a receiver could operate in. Difficult as they
now appear, sorting out frequency-sharing issues among the various providers
may turn out to be the easy part.

June 2010

Deselecting Unavailability

In 2000 the United States turned off GPS selective availability. The consequences of that decision — probably immeasurable at that moment — are still rippling through the world today as the number of GPS receivers in use soars toward the billions.

May 2010

ICDs — Another Good Example

Release of the Galileo OS SIS ICD marks the resolution of a complex
political process, and does so by coming down on the side of
transparency, non-exclusivity, and maximum public benefit.

March/April 2010

Service and Security

The Volpe report came out on the day before 9/11/01. Now we’ve blown
through another nine years without really addressing the issue. And if
Volpe repeated its study today, only assessing the effects of the
vulnerability of the world’s timing infrastructure as well as
transportation . . . well, no one really wants to think about that. And
so nothing has really been done about it.

January/February 2010

More of the Same

With Loran-C’s demise follows the probable abandonment of
enhanced Loran (eLoran) as a multimodal backup to GPS. We have to hope
that it won’t take a disaster to correct the gaping security hole in
our critical national
infrastructure for positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT).

November/December 2009

The Golden Age of GNSS

Will the coming year mark the beginning of the Golden Age of GNSS? At first glance, such a notion might seem not just optimistic, but noticeably ill timed. Read further, however, and you’ll see a broad-spectrum list of events likely to occur in 2010 that could prove the best is still to come.

September/October 2009

Growing Up with GNSS

It's hard to imagine that 20 years can embrace nearly the entirety of the
public presence of a phenomenon such as the Internet or GNSS.

July/August 2009

Satellite Numbers Game

May/June 2009

Inflection Points

Defining who we are by sketching the shadows of strangers is often easier than filling in the outline of our own qualities and aspirations on which to build the basis of mutual interests.

March/April 2009

Whither Galileo, and Why?

The continuing question is whether management of Galileo has changed sufficiently and soon enough to make a difference.

January/February 2009

Critical Infrastructure: The United States and GPS

So, President Obama wants to spend some money on infrastructure, eh? Well, here’s an idea: send some of it GPS’s way.

November/December 2008

Waiting to Exhale: End of the Bush Administration

The parting regime was an administration of people — people who kept working away
through all the bad days and dark hours. Just folks
who got up each day and did the best they could with what they had and
where they were...

Fall 2008

The Six Percent Solution: More Science and Engineering Students Needed

Actually,  six percent isn’t the solution, it’s the problem — fewer
than six percent of high school seniors in the United States plan to
pursue degrees and careers in science or engineering.
That’s the discouraging fact of American life discovered in a recent
study by the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA).

September/October 2008

Interoperable World: the ICG Should Avoid a Cold War mentality

Once again the world is becoming a cauldron of grievances involving its
most powerful nations, including the four primary members of the ICG
Providers Forum.

July/August 2008

Lost in the Noise: The Need for Longterm Infrastructure Development

From time to time, the words in the column title have  been a metaphor for the U.S. GPS program, and could end up as a permanent description of the state of our national public infrastructure - deferred maintenance.

May/June 2008

Limits of Imagination

The use of GPS (or GNSS) is only limited by our imaginations. . . How many times have you heard that since someone–probably Charlie Trimble– first coined the phrase back at the dawn of space-based PNT civilization?

Spring 2008

Persuasive Arts

Formation of the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Executive Committee (PNT ExCom) three years ago occurred under circumstances as awkward as its interminable name.

March/April 2008

The Easy Part

All four major GNSS programs seem to have reached the same passage —not
quite an impasse, but a definite narrowing of the political space.

January/February 2008

Seems Like Only Yesterday

Perhaps we could turn an earlier generation’s aphorism on its head: don’t trust any GNSS under 30.

November/December 2007

GNSS Believer

Technology agnostic. Now there's an interesting term. . . it has
such a fine post-Enlightenment ring to it, connoting an analytical,
studied approach to things. But when it comes to space-based
positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT), I'm not one.

I'm a GNSS believer. I'm for it. I'm a big fan.

Fall 2007

Time Against Time

We have an abiding trust, it seems, in the constancy of time. Amid this welter of transience, it's nice to think about those steady little increments of time, like the gentle susurrus of creation itself. . . Too bad it ain't so.

September/October 2007

GNSS: A System of Systems

The first time I heard the term “system of systems” applied to GNSS, I thought to myself, “Yeah, a catchy phrase, but that won’t really happen.”

After all, much of the last 15 years has been spent accentuating the differences, divisions, and mutually exclusive competition among the existing and proposed GNSS systems.

July/August 2007

About That Cover

I opened the PDF with this month’s cover design from our art director, Tim Jordan, about five minutes after I picked up the morning newspaper. In the paper, a front-page article described our local school district’s plans for starting what would eventually become a 12-year immersion program in Mandarin (putonghua or guoyu).

To my way of thinking, the news about the school program was just one more confirmation of our decision not merely to highlight two articles on China’s Compass program on our cover, but to add it to the galaxy of GNSS systems on Inside GNSS’s masthead.

May/June 2007

Don't Look Back

So, anyway, about this likelihood of the European Union discarding the public-private partnership (PPP) concept for Galileo. People seem pretty nervous about it. Others are gleefully ready to say “I told you so.” Still others are looking for political cover.
But it’s really just business as usual. . .

Spring 2007

GNSS for the Masses

Fabrication technology delivers some amazing results — no question about it. But the distinctive value of GNSS is not to be discovered in the foundries of Taiwan or China. Rather, it arises from the imaginations and hard work of engineers and signal designers around the world.

March/April 2007

Public Private Perplexity

For years many in Europe have started referring to PPP as meaning, “Public Pays Private,” referring to the practical necessity for public subsidy — overt or covert — of an infrastructure that will ultimately pay for itself in the tax revenues generated by user equipment, services, and applications and not solely from revenues derived directly from the system itself.

January/February 2007

The China Syndrome

The scale of a nation’s endeavors tells us a lot about the scope of its ambitions. If Compass/Beidou remains a national or regional system, its significance and the intentions behind it are similarly limited. If Compass becomes a global navigation satellite system, we can assume that its sponsor’s ambitions have a similar scope. If I were a betting man, I’d bet on the latter outcome.

November/December 2006

Land Before Time

The Global Positioning System has gotten along without leap seconds for nearly 30 years, and if GPS system time — which drives the phones, the power grids, the Internet, and even more important, the banks — can get along without it, that’s fine by me.

October 2006

A System of Systems

Robustness, redundancy, availability, interoperability. Like FM radio, these are the qualities that make a GNSS system of systems such a desirable goal — for GNSS product manufacturers and location services providers, for end users, and for the nations building critical infrastructures and national security policies on space-based positioning, navigation, and time.

September 2006

The Future Is Now

If all goes well, Galileo will have a full constellation of satellites up in five or six years. But the GPS L1C signal that would use BOC or MBOC won’t even begin launching until 2013, and many years will have to before the old signals are replaced. Given those respective modernization timelines, the bilateral agreement left it up to Europe to decide — BOC or MBOC? — and the United States would follow.

July/August 2006

Why War, Precisely?

As with al-Zarqawi, so-called smart bombs were also involved in the “right building, wrong target” incident in Belgrade. Which reminds me of an ironic comment I once heard about the limitations of intelligent transportation systems: “What are you going to do when you have ‘smart cars’ with dumb drivers?”

May/June 2006

GNSS Marketplace

In an industrious and cooperative surge of activity, we have seen three sets of draft specifications reach fruition in the last few weeks: publication of a joint recommendation for design of new civil signals on GPS and Galileo, the Galileo Interface Control Document, and the GPS L1C interface specification.

April 2006

Bring Out the Galileo ICD

Over the last couple of years, a series of papers coauthored by members of the European Commission (EC) Galileo Signal Task Force have laid out elements of the frequency plan and signal structure: RF bands, lengths and types of codes, data rates, and so forth. What had remained missing were the Galileo codes and the navigation message structure.

March 2006

Hardware Versus Software

But GNSS is not just physical science, but political science, too. The sound bite as much as the kilobyte. Economics as well as ergonomics. The nanometric microcosm, but also the macrocosm of nations and cultures. How else do we explain the multibillion-dollar infrastructures, programs, posturing, and policy directives?

January/February 2006

Turning Point

Slowly, steadily, but with an ever-growing momentum, GNSS-driven applications of accurate time and location are entering the popular imagination. Today, hundreds of millions of people are walking around with GPS receivers in their pockets — whether they know it or not. And literally billions are benefiting from the myriad uses to which the technology is being put.

Jammer Dectector
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