Next April 6, the devicesGPSwill be required to carry outa transition in the date formatthey use to measure time, because the measurement system that is still used, inherited from its origins in the seventies, reaches the limit of weeks that can count.
As happened in the so-called 'effect 2000', manufacturers of GPS devices must prepare fora transition that, although it should be routine, entails certain risks.
This is what the United States Naval Observatory, the country that hasInvented this location system in 1973, initially oriented to military use. Currently, GPS is one of the most widespread geolocation systems in the world, used to regulate land, air and naval traffic, and in the navigation functions of devices such as smartphones or browsers, among many other applications.
The importance of GPS is also evident economically. According to a recent study by London Economics, a global failure of the global satellite navigation systemGlobal Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), of which the GP is partYes, it would causean impact of 6,000 million eurosin five days and only in the United Kingdom.
The GPS temporary standard has a maximum of 1024 weeks due to its 10-bit system established in its development in the seventies, which translates into 19.7 years, after which there is a change of era. This was due to "the limitations of memory and the need to shorten the maximum length of navigation messages," according to Dr. Serni Ribó, an engineer from the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), in an interview with Europa Press.
The so-called 'first GPS era' began on January 6, 1980 and ended on August 21, 1999. Since then, the second epoch began, which due to the limit of the number of weekswill end on April 6, as explained by the Naval Observatory in an official document.
The American agency considers that "it is up to the users' recipients to resolve the ambiguity in the number of weeks"Although recent and updated GPS devices should not be affected," old GPS receivers can cause problems, "they say.
In this, the companies that produce GPS devices coincide, in which it is responsible for distributing firmware updates between their devices to ensure that the GPS era transition does not cause errors in its operation. One of these manufacturers is Septentrio, a European device designer and manufacturer based in Belgium.
If the transition is not carried out correctly, "in case of serious 'software' defects, the GPS device could stop transmitting positioning data", according to the member of the Royal Institute of Navigation of the United Kingdom and Septentrio navigation expert Tom Willems, in statements to Europa Press.
From the manufacturers sector transmit calm before the situation. "Many manufacturers such as Septentrio have done the necessary tests to prevent GPS devices from transmitting incorrect positioning data due to the change in the weeks, it is unlikely that GPS devices on the market will transmit incorrect positioning data due to the change in the weeks, although this does not it can be completely excluded depending on the manufacturer or the age of the equipment, "according to Willems.
The 'effect 2000' of GPS
The situation facing the GPS ecosystem issimilar to the one faced by the computer sector in the year 2000, when the transition of date to the new millennium in the electronic devices, which codified the year with only two digits, unleashed the fear known as the '2000 effect'.
Experts agree that "the 2000 effect was a similar problem"However, according to Ribó," although there is a greater number of users today than in 1999, I do not think there will be any major problems, "Ribó predicts from the CSIC.
The experience with the 2000 effect also helps put the situation in perspective. "Only very old devices that have never received 'software' updates are affected" by the problem, notes Willems from Septentrio.
Among the totality of GPS devices, the change of time in GPS would especially affect "applications that depend on the date and time of a GPS device", as Willems has warned.
Among these uses are "several critical applications", such as wireless communication networks, financial transactions and grid synchronization. However, the Septentrio researcher says that "critical applications should not be using obsolete equipment."
Even in this case, it is likely that next April 6 there will be no problem, or at least that this has no impact on navigation technologies. "It should be noted that a receiver that does not take into account the change of time will continue to give correct positioning data," says Ribó.
Satellites would not be affected
The GPS system uses the satellite network as a basis for the positioning of the devices. However, experts agree that satellites are not at risk, because the GPS system is unidirectional, and it is only the satellites that transmit signals to the devices, and not vice versa.
"The signals transmitted by the GPS satellites continue to be carried out without interruptionand in a correct way during the change of time. Therefore, there is no impact on the GPS system itself, and it simply continues to work, "explains Willems.
From the European Space Agency (ESA), however, remember that "a change of standard is not without risk" not even for satellites and space navigation, according to its engineer in radio and navigation systems Francisco Amarillo Fernandez, in a interview with Europa Press.
The change of time "would require an adaptation of the GPS system itself, both of the Earth Segment and the Space Segment. In addition, this adaptation would probably be limited to new satellites, so for a long transitory period there would be satellites using 10 bits and another 13 bits, "says Fernández.
Alternative: a 13-bit system
The GPS positioning system, coming from the United States, also hasAlternatives developed in other parts of the world, as is the case of the European Galileo system, the Russian GLONASS system and the Chinese BeiDou technology. Due to its different design, which does not use the 10 bits for the weeks, these standards will not be affected by the change of era of next April 6.
In addition, even from the United States Naval Observatory, a 13-bit week system for GPS signals has been proposed, as an alternative to the current 10-bit system, which extends the period until a new transition period until the year 2137. 13-bit system is already used for GPS signals from modern devices.
"Thanks to the availability of multiple systems and signals, including modernized GPS signals,problems for the change of era are considered solved for all practical purposes", Willems sentence.
Others, such as ESA, propose tackling the problem through a new regulation "that requires a thorough verification of the functioning of a receiver in this condition, before its commercialization", considers Fernández.
As a best reference of this situation, the experts point to the first change of GPS era in 1999. "The manufacturers of receivers took it into account, as now and updated the 'firmware' of their receivers", Ribó concludes.