Gov't Upgrades Consumer GPS Signal

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In a surprise announcement, President Clinton said today that the Department of Defense will stop "degrading" the signal sent to consumer Global Positioning System (GPS) products (which automatically hinders the accuracy of the devices), as of midnight tonight.

The move will improve the accuracy of consumer GPS products to pinpointing locations to within 49 to 60 feet. In the past, the government deliberately degraded the GPS signal to an accuracy of within 300 feet, 95% of the time. This degradation feature was called Selective Availability (SA).

The removal of SA is expected to make future GPS products cheaper as well as 10 times more reliable. In addition, it could help handheld GPS and PDA products to be as accurate as in-car navigation systems, suppliers said.

Magellan director of product marketing Mike Lambie said of the decision, "It will eventually lead into more sales because we'll be able to reduce the cost of the hardware. Right now we do a lot to improve the accuracy. With navigation in the car, 300-foot inaccuracy means you could be two or three blocks off. So now, we may not need to do map matching. This is pretty big. Its going to make us rethink how much hardware we need to get accurate."

Lambie estimated that a $2,000 navigation system could be more than $100 cheaper within the next couple of months.

Two suppliers also noted the decision could prove a boon for handheld sales, which, until now, tended to lack sophisticated map matching or other hardware compensation for the SA inaccuracy.

Said one supplier, "It will help out the handheld guys. They don't have any other sensors to make the product more accurate and they were stuck with less accuracy. This will make them more competitive with the in-car navigation systems."

A spokesman for Garmin said that the change will require no adjustment to consumer GPS equipment and there will be no need to call the manufacturer or dealer. "This is good news. We believe that having more accurate GPS will be a great benefit to the consumer." She said it's too soon to know if the decision to remove SA will have a positive effect on sales, but that "it certainly won't have a negative effect."

GPS is a satellite-based system that sends location and timing data to products such as navigation systems, handheld tracking equipment and PDAs.


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