The GPS navigation system could be threatened by new low-power devices using new Ultra-Wideband Transmission Systems (UWB) technology, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has told the Federal Communications Commission.
In formal comments to FCC Notice of Proposed Rulemaking FCC 00-163, AOPA asked that the FCC allow adequate time for testing and analysis of new devices using UWB, and that such devices should be licensed or controlled to minimize interference with GPS signals.
"The UWB frequency band cuts right through the frequencies needed by pilots and others for navigation and a host of other GPS-based services," said Dennis Roberts, AOPA vice president and executive director of government and technical affairs. "Can you imagine the havoc if crucial navigation signals were disrupted, especially in bad weather?"
UWB systems broadcast digital signals over the extremely wide frequency range of 1.5 gigahertz. High-power UWB applications include "through-the-wall radar" that could help find victims of a natural catastrophe buried under debris. Lower power UWB devices are expected to provide fast, wireless Internet connections, transmit high-quality video and audio signals, and even function as household remote control devices or as construction stud finders.
Although the high-power UWB devices have captured the headlines and are included in the NPRM, most experts and FCC officials already agree those devices should require licensing and controls.
But AOPA has identified the unrestrained proliferation of the much lower power remotes, communicators, wireless wide- and local-area networks, and other lower power UWB devices as the biggest potential threat to GPS navigation signals.
"UWB proponents estimate the average U.S. citizen may have as many as eight UWB devices in the next few years," said Roberts. "It's not a few low-powered units that would interfere with GPS signals. It's the combined 'hum' of millions of the small units that raises questions."
Roberts pointed out while testing may prove that these low-power UWB devices are not a problem, failure to adequately analyze the cumulative effects could jeopardize the massive investment in developing the GPS system and safety of flight. "It's important for the FCC to wait until ongoing test programs are concluded and the necessary regulatory controls are identified before moving forward with rulemaking," he said.
AOPA has participated in technical and operational meetings with UWB advocates and various other aviation organizations over the past year and filed the 21-page comment on the FCC's notice of proposed rulemaking in September. It is available in PDF format.
The 360,000 member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association was among the first to advocate use of GPS for aerial navigation.
November 1, 2000