GNSS timing service

The timing services supplied by GNSS are an increasingly important, but often unrecognised, part of today’s modern infrastructure. This is because the vital role of space-based timing is only exposed when it fails. To shed some light on just how important these services are, this year the Munich Satellite Summit’s legal session focused on the timing aspects of GNSS.

“Many sophisticated timing applications rely on GNSS signals,” said BHO legal partner Dr Oliver Heinrich. “However, they tend to be taken for granted and are only noticed when things go wrong, such as what happened on 26 January when a software upload to GPS satellites induced a 13 millisecond misalignment – a small difference that had a big global impact.

According to Meinberg Funkuhren GmbH & Co.’s managing director Heiko Gerstung, this glitch caused Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers to exhibit different and unwanted behaviour that led to a loss of synchronisation across a number of systems, including power grids and financial markets. Although the issue was quickly detected and resolved in a few hours, it nonetheless had a real global impact, with numerous digital TV and radio networks failing and some financial customers reporting issues. “Trust is good, reality checks and consistency checks are better,” said Gerstung. “Back-up reference sources are important for [these] highly critical systems.”

The Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs (DG Growth) Deputy Head of Unit, Galileo and EGNOS – Applications and Security, Christoph Kautz, noted a number of other events that demonstrate the critical nature of Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) timing. “Reliance on GNSS timing will only increase as smarter power grids are developed and more sophisticated mobile communication networks, such as 5G, are deployed in support of the Internet of Things and other sensor networks,” he said. “All of these will require more and better synchronisation.”

As part of the new Space Strategy for Europe, a Galileo roadmap will identify possible measures to support market uptake by the EU economy in all areas, including timing. “This will be a strategic approach based on a set of technical, sector-based initiatives that are selected for maximum impact,” said Kautz.

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