Military GPS Signal to be Available

1 May 2000

RBBI Comments:

Effective midnight tonight (May 1st) the president has authorized releasing the military GPS signals to civilian users in the US and some other regions of the world.

For many years the civilian signal has been degraded for security purposes. Now with a new technology, they can degrade the signal selectively in certain regions of the world. The technology is called SA (Selective Availability).

One government scientist likened it to, "As illustration, consider a football stadium. With SA activated, you really only know if you are on the field or in the stands at that football stadium; with SA switched off, you know which yard marker you are standing on."

RBBI salutes President Clinton for this accomplishment. Besides immediately bringing much greater accuracy to recreational boating GPS applications (navigation and finding your old fishing hole more accurately) other applications abound. We have not seen details, but expect Differential GPS systems (locating from both a known ground position and GPS sattelites) will now be capable of use in highly precise applications. A whole new world of applications will be opening up. Some may be on the factory floor, another that rapidly come to mind is accurate boat speedometers.

A nice presidental news release is below. If you want in depth scientfic info and some nice graphics, try:
Interagency GPS Executive Board.

Text: White House Statement on Improving Global Positioning System

Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, 
U.S. Department of State
(Navigational accuracy will improve for civilian GPS users) (1140)

President Clinton announced May 1 that civilian users of the Global
Positioning System (GPS) will enjoy more accurate navigational
readings as of May 2. The improved data will result from a government
decision to discontinue an intentional degradation of the GPS system
through a technique known as Selective Availability (SA).

"This will mean that civilian users of GPS will be able to pinpoint
locations up to ten times more accurately than they do now," Clinton
said. A White House press release on the decision says that the market
for GPS applications is expected to double in the next three years.

GPS was originally developed as a military system by the Department of
Defense. The military establishment previously employed SA to globally
degrade the signal for national security reasons. Improved
technologies now allow the military to downgrade the signal's quality
on a regional basis. According to the White House press release, "GPS
users worldwide would not be affected by regional, security-motivated
GPS degradations, and business reliant on GPS could continue to
operate at peak efficiency."

The release says the decision will provide more accurate navigational
data for a variety of civilian uses. They include automobile
navigation, emergency services location, and recreation navigation.

The text uses the following terms:

NSF -- National Science Foundation

DARPA -- Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

NIST -- National Institute of Standards and Technology

Further information on GPS is available at http//

Following is the text of the White House statement:
(begin text)

Office of the Press Secretary

May 1, 2000

President Clinton: Improving the Civilian Global Positioning System

May 1, 2000

"The decision to discontinue Selective Availability is the latest
measure in an ongoing effort to make GPS more responsive to civil and
commercial users worldwide. This increase in accuracy will allow new
GPS applications to emerge and continue to enhance the lives of people
around the world."

President Bill Clinton

May 1, 2000

GLOBE. GPS is a dual-use system, providing highly accurate positioning
and timing data for both military and civilian users. There are more
than 4 million GPS users world wide, and the market for GPS
applications is expected to double in the next three years, from $8
billion to over $16 billion. Some of these applications include: air,
road, rail, and marine navigation, precision agriculture and mining,
oil exploration, environmental research and management,
telecommunications, electronic data transfer, construction, recreation
and emergency response.

GPS IS THE GLOBAL STANDARD. GPS has always been the dominant standard
satellite navigation system thanks to the U.S. policy of making both
the signal and the receiver design specification available to the
public completely free of charge.

previously employed a technique called Selective Availability (SA) to
globally degrade the civilian GPS signal. New technologies
demonstrated by the military enable the U.S. to degrade the GPS signal
on a regional basis. GPS users worldwide would not be affected by
regional, security-motivated, GPS degradations, and businesses reliant
on GPS could continue to operate at peak efficiency.

USERS. It's rare that someone can press a button and make something
you already own worth more, but that's exactly what's happening today.
As of midnight tonight, all the people who've bought GPS receivers for
boats, cars, or recreation will find that they are ten times more

The technology that makes this extraordinary technology possible grows
directly from our past research investments in basic physics,
mathematics, and engineering supported from NSF, DARPA, NIST and other
Federal agencies over a period of decades. GPS works because of super
reliable atomic clocks -- no mechanical device could come close. These
clocks resulted from Nobel-prize winning physics, and creative
engineering that managed to package devices which once filled large
physics laboratories into a compact, reliable, space-worthy device.
The improved, non-degraded signal will increase civilian accuracy by
an order of magnitude, and have immediate implications in areas such

-- Car Navigation: Previously, a GPS-based car navigation could give
the location of the vehicle to within a hundred meters. This was a
problem, for example, in areas where multiple highways run in
parallel, because the degraded signal made it difficult to determine
which one the car was on. Terminating SA will eliminate such problems,
leading to greater consumer confidence in the technology and higher
adoption rates. It will also simplify the design of many systems
(e.g., eliminate certain map matching software), thereby lowering
their retail cost.

-- Enhanced-911: The FCC will soon require that all new cellular
phones be equipped with more accurate location determination
technology to improve responses to emergency 911 calls. Removing SA
will boost the accuracy of GPS to such a degree that it could become
the method of choice for implementing the 911 requirement. A GPS-based
solution might be simpler and more economical than alternative
techniques such as radio tower triangulation, leading to lower
consumer costs.

-- Hiking, Camping, and Hunting: GPS is already popular among outdoor
enthusiasts, but the degraded accuracy has not allowed them to
precisely pin-point their location or the location of items (such as
game) left behind for later recovery. With 20 meter accuracy or
better, hikers, campers, and hunters should be able to navigate their
way through unmarked wilderness terrain with increased confidence and
safety. Moreover, users will find that the accuracy of GPS exceeds the
resolution of U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) topographical quad maps.

-- Boating and Fishing: Recreational boaters will enjoy safer, more
accurate navigation around sandbars, rocks, and other obstacles.
Anglers will be able to more precisely locate their favorite spot on a
lake or river. Lobsterers will be able to find and recover their traps
more quickly and efficiently.

-- Increased Adoption of GPS Time: In addition to more accurate
position information, the accuracy of the time data broadcast by GPS
will improve to within 40 billionths of a second. Such precision may
encourage adoption of GPS as a preferred means of acquiring Universal
Coordinated Time (UTC) and for synchronizing everything from
electrical power grids and cellular phone towers to telecommunications
networks and the Internet. For example, with higher precision timing,
a company can stream more data through a fiber optic cable by
tightening the space between data packets. Using GPS to accomplish
this is far less costly than maintaining private atomic clock

(end White House text)

Return to Recreational Boat Building Industry Home Page