Crowded Aisles and Feelin’ Good with GLONASS

ION 2008 News Coverage:

Jeff Chappell Blogs

GPS WorldSo the economy may be bad – perhaps even down the toilet, judging from the news coming out of Wall Street and the U.S. Treasury Dept. – the Federal Reserve selling bonds to raise money can’t be a good sign; I don’t care what excuse its bean counters offer. Listening to the BBC on the drive down to Savannah on Sunday, one would have thought it was October, 1929, all over again, and I suppose it may turn out that way in the end. But the economy doesn’t seem to have hurt this industry as of late, if the attendance at ION is any indication. Of course, the repercussions from the Wall Street meltdown, if any, will take time to be felt.

Today was the first day the exhibit floor was open, and the number of people walking around in the aisles and stopping by the GPS World booth, was, well, surprising, at least to me. If anything, it seems busier than last year’s event in Ft. Worth, Texas. And this is in spite of Hurricane Ike playing havoc with airline routes throughout much of the U.S. on Sunday and beyond. A few other exhibitors I talked to today made similar observations, although being an editor, I have to admit: I’ve never had a marketing person at a tradeshow or conference admit that booth traffic was down. I’ve had executives tell me that, but not marketing types – but I’m inclined to believe them in this instance. The aisles were busy, in spite of some high-caliber papers being presented today.

The Russians are Coming! And They’re Bringing CDMA GLONASS

One would never guess that relations between the U.S. and Russia were politically chilly at the moment, but then that’s politics and this is business (and rocket science). Politics doesn’t necessarily always have a chilling effect in these situations. Remember a few years back when that U.S. spy plane had to make an emergency landing in China after it clipped a Chinese fighter plane in Chinese air space? I remember talking with a number of different semiconductor executives at that time whose companies were doing business in China – I was an editor for a semiconductor trade pub at the time – and it was business as usual; their Chinese colleagues were even joking about the incident, even as the rhetoric between Washington and Beijing got pretty heavy handed.

No one is making jokes here when it comes to the Russians and GLONASS, in spite of the obvious puns that one could make with the fact that this year’s ION is being held in Georgia – but then that would perhaps be in poor taste. I’d take a shot at it myself; I love a bad pun and let’s face it, there is potential for some real zingers here, but, um, given the economy, I’m even more fond of my job than usual, and would like to keep it.

So moving on, Russia seems to be more eager than ever to be a part of the global GNSS community, if one can judge by the country’s presence here at ION in Savannah. In the same day I saw presentations from both Sergey Revnivykh of the Russian Federation’s PNT Information Navigation Center, who spoke at the CGSIC meeting, and Yury Nosenko, deputy head of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscomos), who gave one of the ION GNSS plenary speeches. And lest you think they just popped in for the day, I spied Nosenko on the show floor today, walking past the GPS World booth.

Both struck similar themes in their presentations: the Russian Federation considers GLONASS critical to its PNT infrastructure, and as such, is investing in GLONASS, and it has plans to continue modernization of its constellation. It is even looking at incorporating CDMA signals on future satellites, although both Revnivykh and Nosenko emphasized that Russia wanted to maintain backward compatibility with its current FDMA-based fleet. You can read all of the details here in my fellow GPS World editor Richard Langley’s blog; I won’t bother to reinvent the wheel, as it were.

Rather, I’ll talk about the intangible things the two men discussed, principally that Russia now realizes that GLONASS isn’t – nor should it be – a standalone GNSS system, that compatibility and even interoperability with other GNSS is crucial for GLONASS. Revnivykh even went so far as to suggest that the next-generation GLONASS K birds, the one’s that will use CDMA, could be interoperable with GPS and GALILEO in the coming decades.

“In the future, no civil user will use just one system,” Revnivykh said. Multi-GNSS receivers will become standard equipment, “and we will support this in our systems,” he said. Nosenko carried this idea even further, suggesting that in the future global and regional satellite-based navigation and timing systems would all be interoperable, and to the equipment user on the ground, it would be seamless.

Maybe it’s because I’m a child of the Reagan years and remember the Cold War before it was a matter of history, but given the recent events in the Caucus lately, i.e. Georgia, and the West’s ensuing reaction, I was frankly kind of surprised to hear the deputy head of Roscomos talk about interoperability, and, well, if you’ll pardon the cliché, how we all need to just get along, because that will be best for the end user.

But it’s not just the Russians talking about this. Of course, all of the end user groups want this. Heck, we’d love an open standard for timing and navigation signals, and a sky chock full of satellites – American, Russian, Chinese, European, whatever. But of course, it’s not that simple, either politically or technically. But a lot of people involved in the nuts and bolts of both GPS and Galileo think that compatibility is a must and that even interoperability is a worthwhile goal, even as they scratch their collective head over the technical issues. Even word on the street is that China is talking now about opening up Compass to civil and commercial use.

Who knew GNSS could be so feel-good and warm and fuzzy? Hmmm … now if we could just get all the GNSS folk in our respective countries to run for political office …

Editor’s Note: As explained at length elsewhere on this site, this is a news story/blog entry written by me that originally appeared on GPS World. GPS World and parent Questex Media hold all of the rights. You can still see a copy of this story at GPS World.