If you live on the West Coast of the United States and you think you can’t live without your global positioning system (GPS) technology, you’re probably already finding out whether you really can or not. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released an advisory for expected GPS interference for six days this month, thanks to unspecified testing to be done by the U.S. military.
The tests are taking place near the largest installation of the United States Navy in the Mojave Desert, specifically on the 1.1-million-acre Naval Air Weapons Center in China Lake, Calif., about 150 miles north of Los Angeles. The testing will cause "unreliable or unavailable" GPS signals, with the duration of the tests possibly lasting six hours, according to the FAA.
The first of the expected GPS outages happened yesterday. The rest are scheduled for June 9, 21, 23, 28 and 30. All the outages are planned to run from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time.
What is the military doing to cause the outages? That’s anyone’s guess. The FAA didn’t say (or even hint at) what kind of device the military is testing that is leading to such GPS outages.
The testing will disrupt GPS signals within hundreds of miles in all directions. The GPS systems of aircraft flying higher than 50 feet will also be affected. The GPS disruption will extend farther in higher altitudes, such as the border between California and Oregon, which is 40,000 feet above sea level.
What might the outage mean for businesses whose delivery fleets rely on GPS to run their routes? Jeanine Sterling, industry director for Mobile & Wireless Communications at Frost & Sullivan, told us the impact for drivers might be less dramatic than it will be for their dispatchers. "Most workers and deliverers know their territories so well that their dependence on GPS in this regard is often minimal," Sterling said.
GPS, however, lets a dispatcher rapidly locate a worker on his administrative portal and quickly make adjustments if an emergency request comes in from a customer, or if another driver is behind schedule. Location technology makes it easier for the dispatcher to find the closest alternate field worker, reorganize the servicing queue, alert the worker to a change in tasks and provide information about the new job, including directions to the new location.
"Without GPS, this all devolves into trying to reach workers by phone and piece a rescue plan together," said Sterling. "Without real-time visibility into the field, the dispatch team can be handicapped in its attempt to respond quickly and effectively to customer requests or unforeseen worker delays."
When reached by reporters, a spokesperson for the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division confirmed that the military was aware of the FAA advisory. The spokesperson didn’t share any details, though, stating only that the outage will be the result of "general testing" for the military's ranges.
Image Credit: Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (China Lake, CA).