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Inflection Points

GNSS providers continue to exhibit nationalist tendencies

Glen Gibbons
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.

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I have never been one who thought there was a fundamental contradiction between physics and metaphysics.

Arguably, an understanding of Newtonian (and Einsteinian) laws of motion (and relativity) may lead inevitably to a younger person giving up her seat on the bus to an elder — but probably most of us did not arrive at that sensibility (if, indeed, we have) by the route of science.

Nothing about the Big Bang or evolution intrinsically stands in opposition to the creation narratives of faith — only a failure of imagination on either side can make these ideas antagonistic. Now, as to human interpretations of scientific and religious concepts — well, that’s another matter entirely.

Nonetheless, as long as we accept the sound science of the former and the metaphors and poetry of the latter with tolerance, curiosity, and, when necessary, a modest element of humor, physics and metaphysics can live and thrive together — and learn from each other.

For instance, in the 20th century a movement arose known as ecumenism, from the Greek oikoumene, for the whole inhabited world. It was, first, a search for common ground among factions within a particular faith, but later expanded to seek cooperation and mutual understanding among faiths.

Eventually, the idea has arisen of a tolerant primacy of one’s own faith in a multicultural world.

But ecumenism is far from a done deal. Crusade and jihad, apocalypse and rapture are much more thrilling prospects than cooperation, it seems. 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.

And that’s where GNSS enters into this little homily.

The world now has four global navigation satellite systems in existence or struggling to be born. (If reports that India now plans to expand its regional efforts into a full GNSS, make that five . . . and counting.) All of the providers have joined that most ecumenical of organizations, the UN-backed International Committee on GNSS (ICG), dedicated to the proposition that the systems should be compatible and interoperable.

But, as frequently occurs in the realm of religions, each GNSS provider continues to exhibit nationalist tendencies as well. Recent GNSS examples: even as his country prepares to host the fourth meeting of the ICG, Roskosmos chief Anatoly Perminov is making the argument that all cars imported to Russia should have GLONASS navigation systems.

China’s Bureau of Surveying reminds (foreign) cell phone owners that the unlicensed GPS function should be turned off to avoid running up against the agency’s crackdown on illegal mapping. Europe would like to tax GNSS chips but has still not finalized an ICD for its Open Service that would allow manufacturers to build receivers.

As for the United States, the original GNSS operator with a complete system and enormous installed base, it sometimes only has to not step up to some issue to advance its particular interests.

The search for unique qualities, secure signals, and comparative advantages vis-à-vis the other systems must coexist beside the demand of rapidly growing numbers of GNSS users to have interoperable systems.

Otherwise, we’ll have no way to deal with such things as the trend toward fielding higher power GNSS signals that raise the noise floor in limited L-band frequencies like water from a broken pipe flooding the basement.

Each system faces a series of internal challenges and inflection points, where providers must decide to turn one way or another in their GNSS program development. And they all have the same external inflection point: protectionism or free trade, dominance and exclusivity or primacy with mutual benefit.

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Jammer Dectector
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