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Issue #2003 - 13 (April 2003)
(Updated Apr. 16, 2003)


War Highlights Role of GPS - Is Business Watching?
Source Article by Arik Hesseldahl published in Forbes 

NEW YORK - If you've paid any attention at all to the coverage of the war in Iraq, you can't help but notice the critical role the Global Positioning System is playing in helping soldiers, Marines and pilots find their way, and steering bombs and cruise missiles to their targets. 

But the GPS system is also a vital--and growing--piece of business infrastructure. Consider for a moment that nearly every telecommunications network, from wireless phone networks to the data networks that make up the Internet, relies on the highly accurate clocks on the 27 GPS satellites to keep its internal clocks correct, which helps data flow efficiently. 

With civilian GPS, construction site managers can precisely determine where their crews should dig. Many farmers rely on GPS equipment to steer their tractors. Ground shippers like FedEx and United Parcel Service are increasingly turning to the GPS system for navigation. 

But it is a military system after all, and that has something to do with a few curious rumors that surfaced in the weeks leading up to the war with Iraq, which suggested that the U.S. Department of Defense would somehow mess with GPS with the onset of war. 

Prior to 2000, civilian GPS signals were deliberately degraded, leaving nonmilitary equipment with a margin of error of about 300 feet. But that year, then-President Bill Clinton ordered the so-called selective availability (SA) feature turned off. That made the systems the business community uses accurate to within 30 feet and sparked a lot of the increased usage we see today. Sales of civilian GPS equipment hit $4.7 billion last year, according to analyst Ron Stearns of Frost & Sullivan in San Jose, Calif., up from $3.9 billion in 2002. By 2008, nonmilitary sales could be $10.8 billion. 

So far, civilian signal accuracy has held, even after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the war in Afghanistan; SA has remained off during the war in Iraq. An accurate GPS system for civilians and military personnel alike is now a matter of national policy, says the Interagency GPS Executive Board, a U.S. government agency, which reaffirmed its policy in a statement posted to its Web site last week. 

"We are not planning to degrade GPS, and there are no plans to degrade GPS," says Jason Kim, a GPS board spokesman. "The decision to turn off SA was a serious national policy decision. Obviously it could be overruled, but no one is seriously contemplating that right now." 

There are no export restrictions on civilian GPS technology, so potential U.S. enemies could easily buy the equipment and attempt to use it to their advantage. Still, it makes little sense for the U.S. to revert to the fuzzy civilian signal. Even under dire military emergencies, doing so would give U.S. forces no advantage. Terrorist attacks don't call for much navigation precision. The military has it own highly accurate tamper-proof encrypted signal that civilian equipment can't receive. 

And a signal change could make an already weak economy worse. "Collectively it could have a substantial effect on industries as diverse as aviation, agriculture and municipal transportation," says Frost & Sullivan's Stearns. 

Trimble Navigation makes GPS chips, as well as systems that help farmers steer their tractors automatically, vehicle and airplane tracking systems and navigation aids. Trimble reported sales of $466 million for the fiscal year ended Jan. 3, 2003, up a whopping 74% from fiscal 1999. Though Trimble's growth slowed last year because of a discontinued line and the weak U.S. economy, analysts expect per-share earnings this year to jump to $1.02 from last year's 35 cents. 

And if the U.S. needs to deny GPS use to Iraqi forces, it is understood to have the ability to do so. Glen Gibbons, a GPS analyst who also edits a technical magazine on the technology, says the Air Force can send false GPS-like signals over selected areas that would prompt civilian equipment to show incorrect position data. Says Gibbons of the military: "Their plans involve doing something in the area of operations, but not to the satellites themselves."

MobileInfo Comments and Advisory: GPS has played an important role in the war. Separating military and civilian use of GPS satellites for location-based applications is fundamental for economic growth. We do not think that Pentagon establishment need to change the rules of the game now. Technology can protect both the military and economic applications. We can win wars without denying GPS's use in civilian applications.

 Note: This news release may contain forward-looking statements within the meaning of section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933 and section 21E of Securities Exchange act of 1934 in USA. Similar provisions exist in other countries. There is no assurance that the stipulated plans of vendors will be implemented. MobileInfo does not warrant the authenticity of the information. Readers should take appropriate caution in developing plans utilizing these products, services and technology architectures.  All trademarks used in this summary are the property of their respective owners.

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