FCC Vote Could Improve GPS Accuracy on U.S. Smartphones


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U.S. device manufacturers will soon be able to establish a connection between smartphones and the EU’s satellite constellation known as Galileo. The result, say FCC officials, means consumers will be able to benefit from improved availability, reliability, and resiliency of navigation and timing services on their smartphones. The FCC approved a waiver of its rules so non-federal users can access specific signals transmitted from Galileo.

Since the debut of the first consumer handheld GPS device in 1989, consumers and industry in the United States have relied on the U.S. GPS system to support satellite-based positioning, navigation, and timing services that are integral to everyday applications, ranging from driving directions, to precision farming. During Thursday’s vote, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said the changes will enable a broader ranges of services and applications on smartphones. Since it’s compatible with GPS, with Galileo, “real-time directions on your smartphone could see improvements, and 911 dispatchers can get a better fix on your location.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the change would also benefit the aviation, rail and maritime industries. “Those with satellite-connected devices will have more eyes looking at them,” said Pai.

While voting for the change overall, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel noted  it will make location services “more resilient” and financial operations more secure. But the change “also shines a light on an uncomfortable truth.”

“There’s a good chance your device can also receive Russian and Chinese signals, too, because our phones are built to be used anywhere in the world and operate with systems of other countries,” Rosenworcel said. Many devices in the U.S. “are already operating with foreign signals,” she explained.

“But we have no idea what it means for the security of our systems. Technology has gotten ahead of our approval policies,” said the Commissioner. She believes it’s time for a “tune-up,” noting that “I support the item, but on location we have more work to do.”

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By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

November 19, 2018