Does GPS need Replacing

Professor Gordon Povey and Wired magazine pin-up Professor Harald Haas believe that visible light communication – or li-fi – can challenge the dominance of GPS, or the Global Positioning System. They believe they can use the light emitted from LED lightbulbs placed in buildings to transmit data, not only to download the latest film to a laptop, but also to tell us where we are with pinpoint accuracy. Just so long as we are in the line of sight of the light source.

Whatever the technology, these real-time locating systems (RTLS) are all about “triangulation”, explains Professor Ajay Malik, former head of engineering for Motorola and author of RTLS for Dummies. In the case of GPS, this means your position is worked out to within a few metres’ accuracy (depending on your handset), relative to four or more of the GPS navigation satellites visible to your device at a given time, out of about 30 satellites in total. Assisted GPS or A-GPS on mobile phones uses the computer power of the phone networks to help make these same calculations – if more slowly – when the radio signal from the satellites is poor.


Global positioning: A timeline

1940s Development of long range navigational systems like LORAN based on earlier British technology

1973 Global Positioning System first imagined

1978 First GPS satellite is launched

1983 Ronald Reagan decides to make GPS free-of-charge

1994 Initial network of 24 GPS satellites completed

1996 Clinton signs order formally recognising the dual use of GPS by civilians and the military

2000 Civilians get access to the higher-quality military signal

2001 First mobile phone with embedded GPS

2002 First TomTom product is released

2010 LORAN is turned off

2012 GPS on mobile phones to become standard

2014 First GPS III satellite is scheduled to launch

China’s Compass

Both China and Russia (with Glonass) have their own navigation systems. Expected to go global by 2020.


An update to the US GPS system will be a major advance on the previous GPS… if budgets allow

Boeing timing and location

Boeing’s own systemsends a powerful signal from a low altitude


The European Union and Space Agency’s precise system features a “search and rescue” beacon


A Wi-Fi triangulation system could work out where you’re located between different Wi-Fi routers

LED (li-fi)

Scientists believe that they can use the light emitted from LEDs to define locations


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