GPS is a well known and widely used technology nowadays. For a time, it was limited to the military and NASA, then we got bulky devices we could sit in our car and have it direct us with various chirps and beeps. Next, the GPS devices in cars became smaller and could talk, then they were integrated into the car itself. Now, we pretty much just rely on our smartphone to guide us. So what’s next?
As it stands, GPS is using somewhat dated technology. The GPS communication platforms we use now operate on the L-band wavelength, which is severely lacking in precision compared to the S, C, and X bands. The reason we still use this band is because the L band is good at penetrating clouds, fog, and other weather anomalies that would obstruct the line of sight between a satellite and GPS receiver.. To use any of the others requires a huge boost to transmission power from the satellite and reception gain on vehicle antennas.
Within the next couple of years, a new band, L2C will be the next major GPS band for civilian use. This band will operate on new Block IIIA satellites that will be launched to replace existing GPS satellites. Some Block IIRM satellites already in orbit will have the L2C capability “switched on” as well. Additionally, the new Block IIIA satellites will still carry the current L1 band, but at the upgraded L1C level. It will continue to work on current generation GPS receivers, but will increase transmission power, tracking, and interoperability with other GNSS signals.
The primary benefit of this upgrade is that having a dual band GPS tracking system means that there is more accurate tracking. Better traffic updates, better route planning, better location of your vehicle, etc. Dual band GPS corrects for ionospheric delay, which is the primary cause of error in civilian GPS applications. At some point after the L2C integration, L5 will be added to civilian use, though just for aviation at first.
Other upgrades to the GPS network will include satellite based augmentation systems (SBAS) that will transmit correction data to GNSS satellites such as clock drift, ephemeris, and ionospheric correction. In order to benefit from a lot of this upgraded technology, you’ll have to upgrade your end-user hardware, however. This means new cars for built in GPS, new standalone GPS units, and new phones will be necessary to take advantage of the coming GPS tech.