March 12, 2011

Is This The Beginning of The End of Geocaching?

It's barely been 10 years since the US Government discontinued Selective Availability of the Global Positioning System, making GPS signals available to us non-military types. Since then, the use of GPS-based tools, applications, and a little hobby known as geocaching, has taken off like crazy. But recently, some issues have begun to emerge that threaten our ability to use this wonderful multi-billion dollar satellite system that we've come to know and love.

FCC Approves LightSquared's 4G LTE Proposal
A little company known as LightSquared wants to build a a high-speed wireless broadband network using satellite frequencies rather than the traditional terrestrial frequency space that the larger cellular companies (Verizon, Cingular, etc.) typically use. The FCC is responsible for auctioning off, and regulating, the use of the radio frequency spectrum. The problem with the LightSquared proposal is, that they plan to operate at a frequency directly adjacent to the frequency band designated for GPS. If implemented as planned, all current GPS receivers will no longer operate correctly in areas covered by their system, which includes the overwhelming majority of the US population. There's a nicely written post on the Free Geography Tools site that describes the technical aspects of the potential GPS interference issue in layman's terms.

The threat is so real that representatives of a wide variety of industries and companies have started and joined the Coalition to Save Our GPS

So let's say the FCC comes to their senses, and revokes LightSquared's conditional approval. Then we can all continue geocaching as blissfully as ever, right? Well, not so fast. There's another looming, growing element that threatens to turn FTF's into DNF's:

GPS Jamming
It turns out that GPS signals are very weak, and therefore susceptible to interference. But why would anyone want to block a GPS signal, you might ask? Well, believe it or not, GPS jamming devices, while illegal, can be had for a mere $30 on the internet, and have become very popular with truck drivers that don't want their vehicles' movement tracked. These jamming devices can also block GPS-based road tolls that are levied via an on-board receiver (such as FasTrak here in the Bay Area). As our reliance on GPS-based devices and information (plane/ship/car navigation, ATM machines, Cell Phones, etc.) grows, so does the desire by a certain element to block GPS signals. There's a great article in New Scientist that discusses this phenomenon in detail, including a recount of 2007 GPS jamming incident in San Diego that disrupted the airport's air-traffic control system, the Naval Medical Center's emergency pagers, the harbor's traffic-management system, as well as cellphones and ATM machines.

Let's hope this isn't the start of bad things to come for geocaching, not to mention all the other important things that we've come to rely on the Global Positioning System for. My DNF percentages are too high already, as far as I'm concerned...

Cache On (while you still can)!


HiddenCaches said...

No worries. GPS technology is still in its early stages. If any changes will be made it will hopefully be better for the geocaching community.

MommyKuehner said...

Interesting article. WE are still Baby Cachers. But we love it. Not brave enough for the cold, so waiting on a nice warm day coming up to go and "play".

Have a great weekend.

(New follower)

GeoJoe said...

Hello Renita,

Thank you for reading my blog. Since you are a relatively new geocacher, you might want to check out some of my earlier blog posts, where I focused on providing tips and tricks for new cachers. Some of the information is becoming outdated, but most of it should still be relevant. Here's a link:

Happy Caching!