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Launchpad: Timing antennas, defense UAS, infrastructure mapping

A roundup of recent products in the GNSS and inertial positioning industry from the January 2022 issue of GPS World magazine.


Base Station

Receives all available GNSS signals

Photo: Trimble

Photo: Trimble

The Trimble R750 GNSS modular receiver is a connected base station for use in civil construction, geospatial and agricultural applications. The R750 provides high-accuracy base-station performance, giving contractors, surveyors and farmers more reliable and precise positioning in the field. The R750 also can be used to broadcast real-time kinematic (RTK) corrections for a wide range of applications, including seismic surveying, monitoring, civil construction, precision agriculture and more. Access to all available satellite signals provides improved performance and reliability when used with a Trimble ProPoint GNSS rover. ProPoint gives users improved performance in challenging GNSS conditions, with improved signal management.

Flight Planning

Updated for safer UAV surveying

Photo: mdCockpit

Photo: Microdrones

The mdCockpit app was designed for professional drone users to make it easy to plan, monitor, change and control flights from an Android tablet. The updates in version 2021.3 include features that improve flight safety and give more options for surveying with an aim to deliver a premier solution for planning, monitoring, adjusting, analyzing and controlling professional drone flight missions from a tablet. Updates include an improved flight editor, flight data collection and drone configuration. Drone pilots can download mdCockpit through the Google Play store.


LTE Module

With 2G fallback for Latin America

Photo: Telit

Photo: Telit

The LE910S1-ELG LTE Cat 1 module is designed for internet of things (IoT) applications in Latin America that need a combination of performance, affordability and voice support in a compact form factor. It provides 2G fallback, making it suitable for areas that have not upgraded to 4G. With an embedded GNSS receiver, the cost-optimized LE910S1-ELG is suitable for tracking applications such as fleet management, stolen-vehicle tracking and recovery, and other mobile IoT applications that need to maintain a reliable connection when moving around in a country, region or multiple regions. The power-saving embedded GNSS receiver enables the use of GNSS positioning even when the cellular modem is switched off.

Flex Power

Capability now on constellation simulator

Photo: Spirent

Photo: Spirent

A new positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) test capability commonly referred to as programmable power — or flex power — is available on the Spirent GSS9000 constellation simulator and can be applied to existing scenarios. Flex power is the reallocation of transmit power among individual signals in GPS satellites, providing a countermeasure against GPS jamming. Spirent simulators fully support programmable power for M-code, Y-code and C/A (coarse acquisition) code.

GNSS Module

Automotive qualified with INS and dead reckoning



The Teseo-VIC3DA is the latest member of the Teseo module family, designed for vehicle positioning. It combines the Teseo III GNSS integrated circuit with the 6-axis MEMS inertial measurement unit (IMU) and dead-reckoning software to provide super-high-resolution motion tracking for advanced vehicle navigation and telematics applications. Teseo III offers robust positioning capabilities by simultaneously receiving signals from GPS, Galileo, GLONASS, BeiDou and QZSS constellations. The module enables competitively priced in-car navigation, fleet management and insurance-monitoring applications.

PNT Platform

Protects critical infrastructure from GNSS vulnerabilities

Photo: ADVA

Photo: ADVA

The scalable aPNT+ platform meets the latest guidelines for resilient positioning, navigation and timing (PNT), providing end-to-end control and timing network visibility for robust protection against the catastrophic risks that PNT disruption poses to national security and essential assets such as power grids. Even without GPS or GNSS timing, the solution provides an intelligent, end-to-end self-recovery system designed around a three-fold framework, integrating multi-layer detection, multi-source backup and multi-level fault-tolerant mitigation.

Timing Antennas

IP67-compliant for outdoor and marine environments

Photo: RadioWaves

Photo: RadioWaves

A new series of GPS/GNSS timing antennas cover the L1 and L5 GPS bands, providing axial ratio and higher accuracy for the reception of satellite timing signals and reference frequencies for enhanced phase synchronization in precision network deployments. Their high gain, low noise figure of 2-dB and high out-of-band rejection allows for use of longer and cost-effective cables for easy and flexible installations. Built-in surge protection supports a wide range of GNSS including GPS, GLONASS, BeiDou and Galileo, as well as Iridium.


Imaging System

Designed for utility and infrastructure mapping

Photo: Geocue

Photo: Geocue

True View 435 is an economical platform for utility-grade mapping, with superior ground-capturing capabilities for lightly vegetated areas. The next-generation compact 3D imaging system has the sensitivity needed for infrastructure mapping. Its position and orientation system is the Applanix APX-15, achieving accuracy of better than 5 cm RMSE and precision of better than 5 cm at 1 sigma.

Long-Range Scanner

Includes integrated GNSS receiver

Photo: Riegl

Photo: Riegl

The VZ-2000i long-range 3D laser scanning system combines user friendliness with fast, accurate data acquisition. The flexible system includes an integrated GNSS unit for a high-accuracy real-time kinematic (RTK) solution. Other peripherals and accessories include a SIM card slot for 3G/4G LTE, WLAN, LAN, USB and other ports. A new processing architecture enables execution of different background tasks onboard in parallel to the simultaneous acquisition of scan data and image data, such as point-cloud registration, georeferencing and orientation via an integrated inertial measurement unit.


Vehicle Antennas

Designed for Intelligent connected cars and trucks

Photo: Harxon

Photo: Harxon

Two new GNSS antennas are designed for vehicles equipped with advanced sensors, controllers, actuators and other devices. They are enabled for intelligent information exchanges between the vehicle and everything (V2X), connecting autos with GNSS, 5G, Wi-Fi, ultra-wideband and more. The integrated antennas support dedicated short-range (DSRC) and cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) communication, embedding a premium GNSS antenna with high gain for consistent and reliable precise positioning service. They also allow for multiple input and output of data to achieve swift internet download speed in 5G networks.


Receiver now supported on autonomous platform

Photo: NovAtel

Photo: NovAtel

The PwrPak7-E1 GNSS receiver is now supported on the NVIDIA Drive Hyperion autonomous vehicle (AV) development platform. Selected for its robustness and precise position output, the PwrPak7-E1 will be offered with NVIDIA’s autonomous driving test fleets worldwide. Drive Hyperion is a fully operational, production-validated and open AV platform that reduces the time and cost required to outfit vehicles with autonomous driving and artificial intelligence (AI) features. The PwrPak7-E1 also is now compatible with NVIDIA’s DriveWorks v4 software release.
Hexagon | NovAtel,


Provides signals to two GNSS receivers


Photo: Tallysman

The TW162A automotive-grade smart power GNSS signal splitter supports the full GNSS spectrum: GPS/QZSS-L1/L2/L5, QZSS-L6, GLONASS-G1/G2/G3, Galileo-E1/E5a/E5b/E6, BeiDou-B1/B2/B2a/B3 and L-band correction service frequency band. It offers fail-over and fault-identification features. The splitter accepts power from all attached GNSS receivers; if one receiver fails, the next attached receiver automatically provides power to the splitter and antenna. If the antenna fails and does not draw current, all connected receivers will sense a current draw lower than 1 mA, indicating an antenna fault. The TW162A offers high performance in terms of noise figure, isolation and linearity.

ADS-B Receiver

Enhances airport situational awareness

Photo: uAvionix

Photo: uAvionix

The pingStation 3 integrates 978 MHz and 1090 MHz ADS-B receivers, a GPS receiver, an antenna and a power-over-Ethernet (POE) interface into an easy-to-install, rugged weatherproof enclosure. With a selection of non-proprietary and industry-standard data interfaces, such as JSON and ASTERIX CAT 021, pingStation 3 is designed to integrate into a multitude of end-user applications, including airport displays, UAS Ground Control Stations (GCS), Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) Solutions, and Flight Information Displays (FID). When paired with the VTU-20 airport vehicle ADS-B transmitter, pingStation 3 improves the situational awareness of ATCs and the safety of airport operations by reducing the risk of runway incursions.


Defense UAS

Flexible UAV and control software combined

Photo: Ascent

Photo: Ascent AeroSystems

Ascent AeroSystems’ Spirit coaxial unmanned aerial system (UAS) offers a versatile and durable system for mission-critical operations. With a modular, plug-and-play payload design, the Spirit’s open architecture allows operators to add or upgrade software to unlock new operating capabilities without the need to design or develop a new aircraft. Autonodyne’s additive software solution allows the Spirit to perform autonomous tasks either individually or as a team with multiple vehicles, from a single operator and control station.
Ascent AeroSystems,

Evaluation Kits

Now include mosaic Septentrio modules

Photo: ArduSimple

Photo: ArduSimple

Two Septentrio modules are being integrated into ArduSimple’s new evaluation kits — the mosaic-X5 GNSS module and the mosaic-H heading module. The new kits make resilient centimeter-level positioning easily accessible for testing and prototyping. ArduSimple’s kits provide triple-band real-time kinematic (RTK) GPS/GNSS as a plug-and-play solution for the most popular development platforms such as Arduino, STM Nucleo, Raspberry Pi, Ardupilot and Nvidia Jetson. It enables developers of robotics, UAVs and autonomous systems to try out mosaic, a unique module offering the latest high-performance GNSS positioning technology.
Septentrio,; ArduSimple,

Geospatial Data

Drones as a service

Photo: Beagle

Photo: Beagle

A drone network solution offers on-demand imagery to customers in Germany at resolutions up to 50 times higher than available from commercial satellite data providers. The Beagle M drone and sensors can deliver image data at 1-cm per pixel many times faster than satellites and regardless of cloud coverage. The company’s charging hangars enable quick flights. After completing an autonomous inspection flight (up to 200 km on a single charge), the drone returns to its hangar where it charges for its next mission. The drone takes just 90 minutes to become fully charged, and can then advance to its next mission without any physical contact between operator and aircraft.
Beagle Systems,

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10 questions on eLoran

the former Loran-C transmission antenna at Værlandet, Norway. (Photo: UrsaNav)

Photo: UrsaNav

A PNT expert suggested that my piece titled “Opposite and Complementary: eLoran is part of the solution to GNSS vulnerability” in our November 2021 issue could be augmented with information not currently available on the proposed eLoran capability. This expert also questioned my statement that eLoran “does not have any common failure modes with GNSS” and pointed to potential common threats such as from cyberattacks, physical attacks, and space weather.

Matteo Luccio

Matteo Luccio

I welcome such feedback on the contents of these pages — and agree that in this case some hard questions are warranted. So, in the interest of further exploring the use of eLoran, I pose some questions, hoping that its advocates will provide answers. I know that at least some of them will not shy away from this challenge.

Please note that I wish to keep the discussion on positioning, not the easier question of timing, because that was the primary focus of my article. I also wish to address long-term outages (weeks or months), which would have a greater impact on the United States.

Some of these questions have been addressed, at least in part, in various studies and proposals, most of them now more than a decade old. So, it would be helpful to update those answers and consolidate them in the pages of this magazine.

1. Accuracy specifics. While my November article stated that eLoran would have a two-dimensional accuracy of “better than 20 meters, and in many cases, better than 10 meters,” is that RMS, 95%, or some other statistic?

2. Performance standard. GPS provides a commitment to users in a published performance standard. What specific measures of positioning accuracy, integrity and continuity would you recommend the proposed eLoran system be committed to provide (using the architecture described in the answer to Question 6)?

3. Coverage. Would you recommend this eLoran positioning performance hold for the entire United States (including Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and other territories), only for the “lower 48” states, or only parts of these 48 states?

4. Current users. By number of users, the predominant common current civil uses of GNSS for positioning are consumer devices (mostly cellphones). By contribution to the U.S. economy, the predominant uses are high-precision applications. For what fraction of these uses would eLoran positioning be adequate? Could an eLoran receiver and antenna fit in today’s consumer devices?

5. Future uses. Emerging civil uses of GPS for positioning include autonomous ground and air vehicles, navigation to space and in space, and lane-accurate car navigation. Which of these could be served by eLoran?

6. Architecture. To maintain accuracy during a prolonged GPS outage, eLoran would require reference stations to calibrate time-varying propagation errors, as well as a certain number of transmitters for good nationwide geometry and for redundancy, ensuring service even if a transmitter is attacked or is taken off-line for maintenance. What architecture would you recommend to achieve this?

7.  Infrastructure cost. What would be the cost of installing the required transmitters, power supplies, reference stations, communication links and control system for the architecture described in the answer to Question 6? Can you reference a recent and independent estimate? To a ballpark figure, what cost fixed-price contract would you accept to implement it? Similarly, what would be the annual costs for operating and maintaining this infrastructure?

8. Impact. eLoran transmitters are large and high-power. Providing positioning across the United States could require building some of them from scratch or significantly reconstructing old Loran sites. What issues — such as environmental, aviation safety and security — would this raise, and how would you recommend they be addressed?

9. Receivers. Assuming all the above were achieved, it would accomplish nothing unless eLoran receivers were widely purchased, installed and used. How much would that cost? Who would pay? Should we assume that “if we build it, they will come”?

10. Alternatives. Given the widespread development of other positioning technologies over the past decade, much has changed since the earlier recommendations for eLoran. How do we know that eLoran is the right investment — or even a needed part of the solution or needed system in a system of systems — for the future of U.S. PNT?

Common threats to GNSS and eLoran could include the following:

1. Cyber attacks. Given that GPS’s OCX is said to be the most cybersecure system built by the U.S. Department of Defense, how would eLoran’s control system be even more cybersecure than OCX, to avoid a common cyber-vulnerability?

2. Physical attacks. Given concerns about possible physical attacks on GPS satellites, which move at multiple km/sec 20,000 km from Earth, would it not be easier to physically attack eLoran transmitters, which are stationary, terrestrial, in remote locations, and hundreds of feet tall and require massive power sources?

3. Space weather. GPS is potentially vulnerable to severe space weather that could damage satellites or temporarily hinder signal propagation from space to Earth. However, severe space weather could also damage the power grid upon which megawatt eLoran transmitters rely. How would eLoran service be protected from the effects of severe space weather, such as a Carrington Event?

Send me your thoughts at the e-mail address below, with “eLoran” in the subject line.

Matteo Lucio | Editor-in-Chief

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RINEX 4.00 format now available

Logo: International GNSS ServiceThe RINEX Working Group of the International GNSS Service (IGS) is now available on the IGS website.

RINEX 4.00 (2021) is a major revision of the format document to modernize the navigation message files to be able to accommodate the new navigation messages from all the GNSS constellations, as well as system data messages such as ionospheric corrections, Earth orientation parameters and system time offsets.

The RINEX Working Group Chair Ignacio Romero provided an explanation to the GNSS community about the new RINEX 4.00 format that explains changes from previous RINEX versions.

The new format is also described in detail on the IGS Format and Standards page. For more information on the RINEX updates and activities, visit the RINEX WG Page.

The IGS adopted RINEX 4.00 during its  59th Governing Board Meeting on Dec. 7, 2021.

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Space Force releases new GPS Roadmap, doc changes

The U.S. Space Force has released a graph illustrating the GPS Enterprise Roadmap. The roadmap provides timelines for all the different elements of the GPS enterprise through the end of fiscal year 2028.

GPS Enterprise Roadmap. (Chart: U.S. Space Force)

GPS Enterprise Roadmap. (Chart: U.S. Space Force)

The agency has also released proposed change notices for several GPS-related public documents.

The link includes proposed changes for IS-GPS-200, IS-GPS-705 and IS-GPS-800 related to RFC-467 (2021 Proposed Changes to the Public Documents), as well as updated briefing charts for the 2021 GPS Public Interface Control Working Group (ICWG).

The updated documents reflect changes discussed at the 2021 Public ICWG on Sept. 29, 2021.

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John Deere reveals fully autonomous tractor

Photo: John Deere

Photo: John Deere

John Deere has revealed a fully autonomous tractor ready for large-scale production. The machine combines Deere’s existing 8R tractor, a TruSet-enabled chisel plow, a GPS-based guidance system, and new advanced technologies.

The autonomous tractor has six pairs of stereo cameras, which enable 360-degree obstacle detection and the calculation of distance. Images captured by the cameras are passed through a deep neural network that classifies each pixel in 100 milliseconds and determines whether the machine continues to move or stops, depending on whether an obstacle is detected. The autonomous tractor  continuously checks its position relative to a geofence, ensuring it operates where it is supposed to, and is within less than an inch of accuracy.

John Deere Operations Center Mobile provides access to live video, images, data and metrics on a mobile device. Using the app, farmers can swipe from left to start the machine. While the tractor is working, the farmer can leave the field to focus on other tasks, while monitoring the machine’s status.

The app allows a farmer to adjust speed, depth and more. In the event of any job quality anomalies or machine health issues, farmers will be notified remotely and can make adjustments to optimize the performance of the machine.

Unveiled at the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Jan. 4, the autonomous tractor will be available to farmers later this year.

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NextNav to deliver high-precision vertical location for 911

NextNav’s Pinnacle 911 will deliver Z-axis capabilities with floor-level accuracy for wireless 911 calls in more than 4,400 cities and towns across the United States.

Photo: vichie81/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Photo: vichie81/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

NextNav has entered into an agreement with one of the nation’s largest wireless carriers, not yet named, to deliver vertical location for Enhanced 911 (E911), using NextNav’s Pinnacle 911.

Pinnacle 911 leverages the barometric sensors already available in phones, tablets and other devices to deliver “floor-level” altitude measurements that exceed the FCC mandate for 3-meter accuracy. The Pinnacle service compares device data to local conditions, subtracting the weather and other factors to leave behind a highly accurate altitude measurement.

NextNav altitude stations create a hyperlocal model of environmental conditions. The precisely surveyed, high-density network delivers “floor level” real-time altitude data nationwide.

NextNav’s dedicated, managed network makes Pinnacle available throughout metropolitan areas, providing comprehensive coverage that scales to meet a variety of use cases.

The delivery of vertical location to public safety answering points (PSAPs) nationwide will improve emergency response in the United States. It enables first responders to accurately locate wireless 911 callers in multi-story buildings, enhancing both safety and response times, and helping to save lives.

With NextNav’s Pinnacle 911 reaching more than 4,400 cities and towns in the United States, including 90% of buildings above three stories, implementation of the service will exceed the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Z-axis requirement for nationwide E911.

“For over two decades, one of public safety’s key needs has been 3D geolocation information — especially floor-level vertical location,” said Ganesh Pattabiraman, CEO of NextNav. “Partnering with one of the nation’s largest wireless carriers to deliver precise, Z-axis information will not only improve geolocation information for PSAPs, but save lives by reducing emergency response times by more than 80%. This adoption of our Pinnacle technology for 911 marks a historic step forward for communities around the nation, and public safety as a whole.”

In an independent evaluation by the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association commissioned by the FCC, Pinnacle was able to deliver floor-level accuracy (defined as ±3 m) 94% of the time, consistently exceeding the 80% benchmark set by the FCC.

NextNav’s Pinnacle service enables applications and technologies that rely on precise altitude data across industries, including public safety, mobile apps and gaming, lone worker tracking as well as out-of-home retail experiences.

NextNav’s extensive list of existing partners and customers includes AT&T FirstNet, Intrepid Networks, 3am, TRX Systems, Qualcomm, Bosch, Unity and Unreal Engine.

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Hemisphere GNSS launches Vega board with Lyra II, Aquila chipsets

Logo: Hemisphere GNSSHemisphere GNSS has announced another Vega heading and positioning OEM board using the Lyra II and Aquila chipsets.

The Vega 60 GNSS board fits industry-standard 46 x 71 mm form factors with a 60-pin connector. It can be used to replace more expensive and lesser abled 60-pin boards with either single- or dual-antenna capabilities.

Hemisphere’s Lyra II and Aquila application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) designs provide the ability to simultaneously track and process more than 1,100 channels from all GNSS constellations and signals including GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou, QZSS, NavIC, SBAS and L-band. The ASIC technology offers Vega 60 scalable access to every modern GNSS signal available.

Cygnus interference mitigation technology is also a standard feature, providing built-in digital filtering capabilities and spectrum analysis. This provides enhanced anti-jamming as well as interference detection and mitigation.

“We are excited for the opportunity to introduce our Vega 60 board,” said Miles Ware, director of marketing at Hemisphere. “Vega 60 brings our industry-leading heading and position solutions to an OEM board footprint with very few affordable upgrade paths.”

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Spirent Communications selects Navmatix for GNSS Foresight service

Spirent Communications plc has chosen Navmatix s.r.o., a Czech-based company that provides cloud infrastructure for real-time data delivery, to provide cloud infrastructure for its GNSS Foresight service.

Spirent GNSS Foresight is a cloud-based service delivering real-time data on the availability and quality of GNSS signals. The solution accurately forecasts when and where GNSS positioning and navigation will be most reliable through a combination of high-definition maps and precise orbital modelling. This makes it possible to obtain a clear picture of the operating environment at a moment’s notice.

GNSS Foresight will ultimately allow unmanned vehicles, air taxis and drones to operate beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) safely.

The GNSS Foresight service enables flight in challenging environments by calculating GNSS availability for every meter, every second, from 1-100 meters altitude, for up to three days into the future. (Image: Spirent Communications)

The GNSS Foresight service enables flight in challenging environments by calculating GNSS availability for every meter, every second, from 1-100 meters altitude, for up to three days into the future. (Image: Spirent Communications)

Navmatix will provide the cloud infrastructure required to deliver GNSS forecast data as real-time data via an API. Navmatix will be deploying full operational and developmental support, including hosting for collection and processing the GNSS forecast data through its content delivery network (CDN). The CDN allows the end user to efficiently query, comprehend and interact with the data. Navmatix will handle the foundational infrastructure of the project, a significant phase in expansion of the company as a whole.

“Spirent Communications are pioneers in GNSS test and assurance solutions, and the Spirent GNSS Foresight service expands our solutions to help autonomous systems reliably use GNSS,” said Jeremy Bennington, vic president of PNT Assurance. “Navmatix has built a framework that can deliver mission-critical services, which is also reliable and scalable. We’re excited to be partnering with Navmatix and look forward to growing Navmatix’s CDN to support the growth of Spirent GNSS Foresight solution throughout its complete lifecycle.”

Because of the amount of data generated, the architecture delivers a robust and sophisticated solution, according to Navmatix. Being entirely cloud based, it allows for continual updates and remote access. The cloud infrastructure will provide the tools necessary to deliver Spirent GNSS Foresight services to Spirent customers worldwide.

Navmatix offers managed infrastructure solutions for the operation, development and ongoing maintenance of GNSS services worldwide.

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Esri launches ArcGIS indoor positioning system

Image: Esri

Image: Esri

Esri has released ArcGIS IPS, an indoor positioning system. ArcGIS IPS adds a blue dot to indoor maps, enabling users to locate their current position inside a building in the same way GPS enables outdoor location indicators.

ArcGIS IPS is designed to enable new use cases to improve on-site experiences, workplace operations and efficiencies. It uses an alternative technology to enable real-time positioning inside buildings that unlocks a variety of use cases, the company said.

Use cases inside buildings include:

  • real-time localization and positioning
  • real-time navigation and wayfinding
  • live location sharing and tracking
  • live location tracking
  • location data capture and analytical insights
  • real-time localization and positioning.

ArcGIS IPS is available for users of ArcGIS Indoors, an indoor mapping system for smart building management, and ArcGIS Runtime SDKs, which enables the indoor positioning capability in custom-built apps.

Image: Esri

Image: Esri

ArcGIS IPS comes with the mobile ArcGIS IPS Setup app, which allows collection of radio signals from Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons inside buildings to enable an indoor positioning system. It can make use of an existing or new beacon infrastructure and is vendor agnostic.

ArcGIS IPS geoprocessing tools are also included to set up and author an IPS environment in ArcGIS Pro.

Users can navigate to specific points of interest — places, assets or people — in real time. This requires an existing app based on ArcGIS Runtime to support routable networks. ArcGIS Indoors can also display the route to a destination.

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US agencies tangle on possible C-band interference

Photo: guvendemir/E+/Getty Images

Radio altimeters are critical in aircraft landing systems. (Getty image). (Photo: guvendemir/E+/Getty Images)

As most GNSS industry insiders already know, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has licensed adjacent GNSS L1 protection frequencies to Ligado Networks (formerly Lightsquared) for its nationwide 4G-LTE network.

Many objections emerged as expected this second time around from government agencies, industries and U.S. forces — yet the roll-out is still underway, pending actual interference occurring. This all in an attempt to find communications bandwidth for many emerging commercial radio applications.

Now, as 5G C-Band 3.7–3.98 GHz wireless phone networks begin their FCC approved roll-out, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has apparently lodged an unanticipated objection on the grounds that cross-interference could compromise aircraft radar altimeter and wireless communications that operate at 4.2 to 4.4 GHz in the C-band.

While 5G wireless has already been operating in many parts of the world without reports of interference with aircraft systems, the FAA appears to be taking a more conservative approach to how aviation in the United States should co-exist with the new 5G phone wireless system. The FAA has proposed imposing an exclusion zone around airports for 5G wireless networks — which apparently have already been operating with reduced power in these areas — until cooperative operation has been proven.

Now along comes a new C-band wireless network (SkyLink) aimed at providing high-integrity unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) command and control (C2). The SkyLink company uAvionix has also developed a C-band Control & Non-Payload Communications (CNPC) radio for UAS applications.

Together with Thales, uAvionics recently tested its radio with its SkyLink radio network. The network has been qualified in accordance with the RTCA DO-377 standard for a network management system that monitors network and radio link health, and the radio has been developed to the draft FAA Technical Standard Order (TSO) C-213A to support critical UAS operations.

The network uses new DO-362A-compliant SkyLink C-band radios, integrates certifiable aviation-grade hardware and software, uses frequency agility, and provides critical fault monitoring and control capability. The objective is to obviate the loss of the C2 link with the vehicle, and thereby enable beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) operations without an FAA waiver.

It’s unclear whether the emergence of the C-band network — approved by both the FAA and FCC — will play a role in the current phone network interoperability issue. However, uAvionix reports that several sites in the United States and offshore are either rolling out C-band SkyLink networks or evaluating doing so.

  • North Dakota already has an ISM-band SkyLink network at its UAS test site that will shortly transition to C-band.
  • The Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma under an FAA program seeks to enable BVLOS operations through a C-band C2 network.
  • New Mexico State University will use a Skylink C2 network around Las Cruces airport for small UAS (sUAS) operations and testing to overcome anticipated interference from nearby Air Force and Space Force operations.
  • The Tillamook UAS test range in Oregon has already installed the first ground site of a SkyLink network.
  • The University of Alaska at the Fairbanks UAS test site will use uAvionics radios for testing large, heavy UAS operations.
  • In Canada near the Jonesburg airport, a Skylink C2 network will support the safety case for BVLOS pipeline inspection operations for the oil industry.

While many of these new networks are not yet fully online, the use of frequency hopping, safety-monitored C-band, and certifiable transmissions for UAS command and control appears to be moving forward rapidly. Because the FAA is supporting this testing phase, it seems inevitable that large-scale C-band network rollout for UAS C2 will happen eventually.

5G phone networks, wireless UAS command and control, and aircraft safety systems essential for landing will need to find a way to co-exist and provide reliable, sustained service to their respective customer bases. Look for much more to develop in this ongoing tussle between industry groups and agencies who appear to have little in common, other than grudgingly sharing a crowded radio spectrum.

Tony Murfin
GNSS Aerospace