The European Union’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) released a new report today on its trials of Alternative Position, Navigation and Timing (A-PNT) technologies, conducted between 2021 and 2022. The demonstration tested technologies from seven different companies on their ability to address vulnerabilities and serve as a complement to Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) – the satellite-based PNT technology that includes the Galileo (EU) and the GPS (USA) systems, among others. Although widely used, GNSS technology suffers from unique shortcomings, and without alternatives in place, the effects of an outage would be far-reaching and damaging to the European economy.
The JRC recognized TerraPoiNT as a mature technology that meets or exceeds all relevant benchmarks to serve as a resilient layer to existing GNSS technology. Of the technologies tested, TerraPoiNT delivers both horizontal and vertical location services while remaining commercially deployable and cost-effective for end-users. Previously, tests by the US Department of Transportation (DOT) found TerraPoiNT to be the only commercial PNT alternative to meet identified needs in “all applicable use case scenarios.”
Critical infrastructure and industries are reliant on precise PNT services, but traditional GNSS remains vulnerable to interference, which can include jamming or spoofing attacks, solar flares, or even direct strikes on satellites. In recent months following the invasion of Ukraine, European commercial aircraft have reported jamming disruptions to their satellite navigation systems. A widespread outage would impact financial transactions, mobile networks, power grids, transportation infrastructure, and more, with disastrous economic and national security consequences.
Executed on behalf of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Defense Industry and Space (DEFIS), the JRC report was based on rigorous testing and data analysis, and is designed to strengthen the resilience of the EU’s economy and critical infrastructure by identifying alternative solutions for a potential GNSS outage and to serve as a guide for policymakers as they look to select and implement these technologies.
“With this report, the European Union is taking an important step for security and economic resilience by working to address GNSS vulnerabilities,” said Ganesh Pattabiraman, Co-Founder and CEO of NextNav.
According to the report, TerraPoiNT:
- Demonstrated indoor positioning, timing, and navigation, including vertical location accuracy within 2 meters 90% of the time, throughout the entire test;
- Was only one of three technologies to successfully demonstrate timing stability over multiple days of GNSS loss;
- Exceeded critical infrastructure requirements by maintaining timing stability within 15 nanoseconds 90% of the time.
In addition to having signals that are 100,000x stronger than traditional GNSS, making them more resistant to spoofing and jamming, TerraPoiNT can also support methods to authenticate and encrypt signals to counter hostile attacks and other types of interference. TerraPoiNT is able to receive timing through multiple sources, including atomic clocks and fibre networks, and transfer it and wirelessly over the air across large distances. Further, TerraPoiNT is able to maintain a level of accuracy suitable for positioning and navigation. TerraPoiNT also delivers similar or better levels of outdoor PNT performance as it does indoor, allowing for industry-leading 3D navigation capabilities that incorporate both horizontal and vertical location. The service is currently used by NASA for drone and urban mobility testing in both Langley, Virginia, and in Mountain View, California, leveraging NextNav’s deployed network.
The TerraPoiNT technology is relatively flexible in its frequency usage, operating in the 900 MHz band in the United States and the 800 MHz band in Japan. In the US, the TerraPoiNT technology operates in a band geared towards terrestrial multilateration, specifically in the 920 MHz band. Consistent with this approach in the United States, the JRC recommends that spectrum be allocated for terrestrial PNT resilience within the EU.
Unlike many of the other available technologies tested, TerraPoiNT is deployable at scale due to its ability to fit mass market devices with software and firmware upgrades, leveraging existing RF front end where possible, and the minimal spectrum required for operation. With its subsidiary NextNav France, which has been working with the European Innovation Council, NextNav is incorporating enhancements to its TerraPoiNT system to leverage LTE/5G signals – allowing for PNT implementation even ahead of spectrum allocation.