GNSS (global navigation satellite systems) is an essential tool: society is highly dependent on GNSS. In the 1990s the US Military’s GPS system became the first GNSS widely available to the public and widespread adoption quickly followed, leading to a variety of essential roles for GPS — from in-car navigation to ports and logistics operations.
In fact, society has become so reliant on GNSS such as GPS that even moderate problems with GNSS coverage can have serious repercussions, with the concerns around jamming and interference growing in the last ten years.
There’s an urgent need to get a better understanding of the extent of interference, and the sources of intentional jamming. This is exactly what Netradar set out to do with the ESA BIC (European Space Agency Business Incubation Centre)
The risks posed by GNSS signal loss
GPS led the steady growth in GNSS use cases and the general public still tend to refer to services provided by any one of the four GNSS as a “GPS” service, even though they may in fact be benefiting from Europe’s Galileo, Russia’s GLONASS or China’s BeiDou.
All of these systems are vulnerable to interference and intentional jamming. There are countless examples: one country provoking another, a key stock exchange can’t time its trades, flights cancelled, the list goes on and on.
The public, business and government are all at risk of GPS signal failure. Whether it is accidental interference causing reception issues or intentional jamming, breaking the signal link with GNSS such as GPS or Galileo is simply too easy and too commonplace to ignore. These risks come from a range of sources:
Unintentional interference where radio signals from another device or service unknowingly cause problems with GNSS services. These sources of interference can often be incredibly difficult to track down, with days or weeks lapsing before a source is identified.
Collateral damage from purposeful GPS jamming including the classic example of the truck driver using a cheap GPS jamming device to hide behaviour from an employer — only to cause unrelated positioning services in the surrounding area to also fail.
Intentional disruption of services where a malevolent individual, group or even nation-state uses GPS jamming equipment with the aim to cause widespread disruption and damage.
Irrespective of the source or the motivation of jamming and interference, the results are the same: essential location and navigation services fail or become unreliable.
Crowd-sourcing GNSS reliability: Netradar and the ESA Business Incubation Centre
Netradar has years of experience in understanding the use of mobile networks — and mobile devices, offering deep insight into mobile network and device use via our Netradar Suite. This knowledge hinted at another important use case for Netradar’s device-driven insights: understanding the prevalence, location and impact of GNSS interference.
In November 2019, Netradar joined the ESA’s Espoo Business Incubation Centre with the aim to develop a solution that can detect where GNSS breaks down, how often devices experience problems with navigation and location and where these problems occur — alongside insights into the sources of the interference.
Netradar’s solution crowdsources GPS performance data from live mobile phones via the Netradar app. In fact, GPS performance analysis is now integrated into the Netradar SDK.
Because mobile phones have another source of location data — the operator network — it allows Netradar to gather unique insights into the accuracy of GNSS signals. Our data can build a comprehensive, accurate picture of GPS interference, with granular insight:
Genuine signal loss. Netradar can determine when GNSS signals are weak because of the user’s physical location — let’s say the user is indoors, or in a long tunnel. These episodes of poor location performance are not flagged.
Explicit interference. Similarly, the Netradar approach can discern where a user is losing location accuracy due to unintentional or intentional interference and where location services are completely blocked due to a jamming exercise.
GNSS network affected. Netradar also distinguishes amongst the four GNSS networks when analysing interference and its effects — our solution can tell whether GPS or Galileo is most affected by interference or jamming efforts.
Though Netradar Space is still in active development, the real-world impact of better understanding just how frequently applications are affected by GPS interference and jamming is starting to emerge.
Potential benefits of Netradar’s world-first approach
Given the fact that GPS jamming has become such a widely known issue, it is not surprising that there are existing solutions for finding the source and location of interference. Hardware devices that can detect the source of interference do exist: but these are scarce, expensive and not that mobile — typically deployed at key infrastructure hubs such as airports.
The crowd-sourced nature of the Netradar solution delivers a breadth of coverage that hardware units cannot match: Netradar gathers data on GPS interference on a nation-wide basis. While Netradar cannot pinpoint exactly what the source of GPS jamming is (this will require specialised hardware) Netradar can point at a problem — which can be further investigated by a hardware approach.
So, where Netradar detects a problem via a sufficient number of users it can flag the issue — which may otherwise go unnoticed for an extensive period of time. We are still fully developing the use case of our novel GNSS interference detection capabilities, but in the broad we can see that:
Individual users can be warned. Consider, for example, a user travelling in a remote area who is highly dependent on location services. Or leisure boating — where accurate positioning is the difference between a good day out or hitting the rocks. Netradar could warn a user that their GNSS service is experiencing a disruption — and that location services may be inaccurate.
Areas of interference can be flagged. The crowdsourced knowledge driven by Netradar data can help businesses, networks and governmental organisations to understand where location signals are unreliable, or subject to frequent jamming attempts. Consider road routes used by truckers, for example.
Alerts for powerful jamming incidents. Netradar Space could also act as an early alert system, detecting where GNSS signals are under mass attack — due to a terror or state attack, for example. Netradar would provide nation-wide alert coverage, compared to the existing coverage that only reaches as far as the relatively minimal hardware deployment.
Netradar clearly fills in the gap: delivering more insights over and above the existing level of knowledge about GNSS interference and jamming — knowledge that is currently restricted by limited deployment of detection hardware.
Watch this Space!
Netradar has two distinct advantages in the battle against GPS interference and jamming.
Our coverage is nationwide, not location specific — thanks to the crowdsourced nature of our data. And, Netradar can utilise location data from sources such as network operators and Wi-Fi and compare this against GNSS data.
Exactly how and where the Netradar approach will deliver use cases and benefits will emerge in the coming months. But there is a little arguing that Netradar’s participation in the ESA BIC will deliver a big step forward in the battle against GNSS accuracy.