An alternative navigation and positioning system for maritime transportation has been launched in waters around the UK coast, offering ships a back-up solution in case of GPS failure.
The system, developed by technology company eLoran, uses seven reference stations along the UK coast to provide additional position, navigation and timing (PNT) information to ships fitted with eLoran receivers.
The project was initiated by the General Lighthouse Authorities (GLAs) of the UK and Ireland to provide an alternative option to the UK’s busy shipping industry.
The GPS signal, crucial for flawless operations of many modern devices and applications including telecommunication networks, smart grids and high-frequency trading, is prone to both accidental and deliberate jamming.
The eLoran system, completely independent on GPS, generates longwave radio signal one million times more powerful than that from the positioning satellites, which can also reach inside buildings, underground and underwater – a major shortcoming of space-based systems.
“Demands on marine navigation continue to increase with growing congestion, and awareness of the vulnerability of GPS is growing,” said Captain Ian McNaught, deputy master of Trinity House.
“The achievement of Initial Operational Capability for the system at Dover and along the east coast of the UK is a significant milestone, providing for improved safety aboard appropriately equipped vessels. The maritime industry would now benefit from the installation of eLoran receivers on more vessels to take advantage of improved navigational safety.”
The UK is the first in the world to offer the technology to shipping companies operating both passenger and cargo services. The roll-out was approved by the Department for Transport in 2013. Led by the General Lighthouse Authorities (GLAs) of the UK and Ireland, deployment of the system involved replacing the existing radio receiver equipment in two prototype reference stations at Dover and Harwich, and the creation of five new reference stations in the Thames, Humber, Middlesbrough, Firth of Forth and Aberdeen.
“The telecoms, finance, energy and other industries which are subject to significant issues caused by the loss of timing signal provided by GPS are recommended to take advantage of the enhanced reliability now available to address the over-dependence of key national infrastructure on vulnerable satellite systems,” McNaught added.
Several nations around the world are consulting with the GLAs to benefit from its knowledge and experience of eLoran. South Korea, for example, has expressed interest to establish an eLoran alliance with the UK while pursuing its own rollout of differential eLoran reference stations and new eLoran transmitters based on the latest technology.
In 2012, South Korea was the victim of a 16-day GPS jamming attack by North Korea.
Jamming the GPS signal is possible with simple jammers that could be easily purchased online for as little as £30. Though cheap and simple, these devices can cause widespread outages affecting targeted receiver models.
While currently available only along the UK east coast and near Dover, the system should be available UK-wide by 2019.