THE GLOBAL POSITIONING SYSTEM (GPS) suffered a 12-hour borkage last week that played havoc with computer systems.
The ramifications on Earth were spectacular, despite timings being just 13 microseconds out after one of the network of satellites was taken out of service.
Telecoms were disrupted and BBC national DAB stations were forced off air in some parts of the country, highlighting just how much rides on the accuracy of GPS.
Prof Charles Curry, CEO of Chronos Systems, which monitors time accuracy for business-critical networks, told the BBC: "I don't think it's gone quite that badly wrong since 1 January 2004, when the same satellite vehicle number [SVN], 23, decided to become unhappy."
The satellite in question, SVN23, is the same one that was decommissioned this week, causing a "software error" for the GPS network.
Curry said that companies had received "hundreds" of error reports as a result of the glitch, affecting industries as diverse as energy production and telecoms.
There has been no comment from the US military, which manages the GPS network, as to exactly what went wrong when the satellite was being decommissioned.
Rival GPS systems are already being built around the world, which will eventually lead to competition in location management. Russia's GLONASS network was completed in 2011, and the EU's Galileo will be in service by 2020. Systems from India, China and Japan offer services aimed at their own territories.
The EU also has EGNOS, which provides improved accuracy for the GPS network in Europe.
GPS has been with us for 27 years, and was made a universal offering after a Korean Airlines plane strayed off path in 1983 and was downed by the Russian military.
Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado published an article earlier this week in praise of GPS in which Matthew Brandt, 2 SOPS director of operations, said: "The GPS signal coming from the satellites is pristine. It has to be.
"Somebody somewhere is using that signal to put a bomb on a target and kill a bad guy. Somebody is using GPS to pull an extraction or using it to call in an airstrike."
Yes. It's also being used so that people in walking boots can find old tobacco tins under trees with plastic trolls in them. And with that, no-one gets hurt, which is nice. µ
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