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ryanl
07-07-2012, 11:04 AM
I recently watched a documentary on the development history of GPS under the U.S. military. One interesting tidbit was that the astronomical costs of realizing a functioning global position system were justified only because it was deemed critical for military operations during the Cold War. Fast forward a few decades, and it's safe to say that this government expenditure has had fairly useful civilian applications. Not only has an entire industry developed around GPS hardware and software development, but it has made navigation safer (e.g., civilian aviation), not to mention just plain more convenient (e.g., getting directions to that new restaurant).

Given the fact that GPS was an incredibly expensive project at the outset, would private industry have at some point developed its own system had the military not funded the R&D and satellite launch costs during the Cold War? As far as I know, the military still maintains the daily running of the satellites that comprise the GPS currently in use by most civilians.

OldGuy
07-07-2012, 11:16 AM
One trouble is, I'm pretty sure the GPS satellites are broadcast only. They did have originally two or more signals with the civilian signal intentionally degraded. The Clinton administration ended this practice and improved resolution from something like 100 meters to 25 meters for civilian use. I'm not at all sure how this was enforced, and I'm not sure how a private organization could enforce others not using the signal without paying for it.

Darryl Lict
07-07-2012, 11:41 AM
I doubt it. The amount of money they were throwing at GPS was phenomenal. I stepped off a plane in Dallas just before graduating college in 1979 and was offered my highest paying job at Texas Instruments without even an interview (other than a cursory one on campus). This was with about 25 other kids in my group that day. They also offered to pay for Masters degree part time as part of the package.

Stranger On A Train
07-07-2012, 12:53 PM
The Global Positioning System was not only incredibly expensive to develop and deploy, but required the ability to launch many satellites, which did not exist commercially prior to the Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984. The first launch of an actual commercially developed launch vehicle, the Orbtial Sciences Pegasus air-launched SLV, did not occur until 1990. Most "commercial" space launches by US corporations have actually procured launch vehicles such as the Delta, Titan, and Atlas families via the United States Air Force (although produced and integrated by contractors such as ULA).

Of course, several companies have since deployed satellite consellations for commercial use, such as Iridium, Orbital's ORBCOMM, and Globalstar. However, these are all in low Earth orbit (LEO) constellations whose positions and transit speeds are too low for reliable use in precision navigation. (It is noteworthy that all of these companies have also failed to demonstrate profitability.) The GPS navigation systems (and other worldwide navigation systems being deployed by Russia, the PRC, and ESA) have to be launched into far more energetic medium Earth orbits (MEO) or geosynchronous orbits.

The value of satellite navigation is obvious to us now, and the applications, from commercial aviation and surveying to recreational fishing and hiking have spawned a multi-billion dollar industry. However, all of the profit in that industry is on the receiver side, and profits on those are suprisingly thin. If not for the Department of Defense subsidizing the GPS system for commercial and recreational use (and later making the high fidelity signal freely available) it is almost certain that the commercial potential of GPS would be unrecognized and no single entity would be sufficient to fund development and deployment of the system in this timeframe.

Stranger

kanicbird
07-07-2012, 05:42 PM
There might have been a terrestrial equivalent, which I've read is coming into use to improve positioning accuracy beyond GPS in such places where GPS is unreliable such as inside buildings by using various radiowaves from known various long and short range sources

Francis Vaughan
07-07-2012, 06:46 PM
The obvious comparison is the EU's equivalent system: Gallieo (http://www.esa.int/esaNA/galileo.html). When first mooted the intent was that there would be a mix of military, civilian and commercial use which would help pay for the system. The commercial capability is encrypted, so that users need to purchase access, but provides precision down to a few centimeters. However no-one believes that this commercial product will do anything more than pay a token contribution to the overall system costs. There was something of a scandal when projections for commercial revenue were found to be bogus. Of course the ubiquitous availability of free GPS reception, and the fact that the Galileo system will provide free access to precision compatible to the restricted military P channel of GPS make this extra precision a very hard sell. The Galileo system was nearly killed off a couple of times due to its high cost.

In addition you have the Russian Glosnas system.

Both systems have been built after the GPS system (well Galileo is in the very early stages, with only pathfinder satellites flying at the moment and no actual navigation capability) and at significant cost. Both the Russians and the EU felt that depending upon GPS alone (and by definition a system that was under the control of the US) was sufficiently insecure that they built their own. The Chinese are also making noises about building a nav system.

If you were to shoot down all the existing GPS satellites you could maybe make a commercial case for replacing them with new ones that encrypted the civilian channel and required payment to use. (Being evil, you still provide the C/A channel for the first few years, so that existing equipment still works, but announce that the precision will significantly degrade every year, but that new receiver chips that pay for the encryption key will work wonderfully.) Even here, I doubt that the numbers add up to commercial viability.

tellyworth
07-07-2012, 07:02 PM
Of course, several companies have since deployed satellite consellations for commercial use, such as Iridium, Orbital's ORBCOMM, and Globalstar. However, these are all in low Earth orbit (LEO) constellations whose positions and transit speeds are too low for reliable use in precision navigation. (It is noteworthy that all of these companies have also failed to demonstrate profitability.)

I was surprised to learn that Iridium's current incarnation does appear to be making a modest profit now. It sounds like, had they been able to manage their current subscriber and revenue base in the early days, the original company might still be in business (thought certainly under-performing). It's worth noting that they managed to launch 66 satellites at a record rate and cost.

Chimera
07-07-2012, 07:12 PM
Private Industry and Capitalism might like to think they're the end all be all and "the invisible hand" will solve every problem, but GPS, The Internet, The Interstate Highway System, Space Capabilities, Satelites, and other things like that would never have been developed except by government programs, let alone all the science programs that have extended our knowledge and worked their way into our daily lives.

John Mace
07-07-2012, 07:18 PM
Private Industry and Capitalism might like to think they're the end all be all and "the invisible hand" will solve every problem...
People who understand and even advocate for the free markets never claim this.

However, it's almost certain that private industry would eventually develop something like GPS even if it wasn't satellite based. It's all a matter of time.

BwanaBob
07-07-2012, 07:47 PM
People who understand and even advocate for the free markets never claim this.

However, it's almost certain that private industry would eventually develop something like GPS even if it wasn't satellite based. It's all a matter of time.

And those SOBs would have made you pay per use, or by endless subscription.
Thank the Lord that the government developed it.

gaffa
07-07-2012, 08:39 PM
Here's a commercial alternative (http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/onepercent/2012/06/gps-jammed.html), although it really is more of a complement in situations where GPS is less useful.

John Mace
07-07-2012, 08:42 PM
And those SOBs would have made you pay per use, or by endless subscription.
Thank the Lord that the government developed it.

Yeah, because the government spends money that they picked off tress, and so it doesn't cost anything. If you'd like to argue about the free market system, perhaps you should open a thread in GD, rather than posting your opinion in a forum that is supposed to be devoted to discussing facts.

BwanaBob
07-08-2012, 01:50 PM
Yeah, because the government spends money that they picked off tress, and so it doesn't cost anything. If you'd like to argue about the free market system, perhaps you should open a thread in GD, rather than posting your opinion in a forum that is supposed to be devoted to discussing facts.

My mistake, I thought I was in IMHO.

njtt
07-08-2012, 02:01 PM
People who understand and even advocate for the free markets never claim this.

Neither do true Scotsmen, so I hear.

However, it's almost certain that private industry would eventually develop something like GPS even if it wasn't satellite based. It's all a matter of time.

Oh, so I guess you are not counting yourself among those "people who understand and even advocate for the free markets". Unlike them, you do think the market would be bound to solve the problem eventually.

John Mace
07-08-2012, 06:29 PM
Neither do true Scotsmen, so I hear.
Nope. What I posted was not that fallacy. Or any other.



Oh, so I guess you are not counting yourself among those "people who understand and even advocate for the free markets". Unlike them, you do think the market would be bound to solve the problem eventually.

Markets don't "solve problems". The whole premise that poster was putting forth was flawed by making that assumption.

CookingWithGas
07-08-2012, 08:17 PM
Yeah, because the government spends money that they picked off tress, and so it doesn't cost anything.Certainly the government did use our tax dollars to build it, so it isn't free. But compare to something like cell phone infrastructure. Most likely there would be some sort of subscription fee to be able to receive the GPS signals, which would be determined by supply and demand. In today' reality, on the other hand, the government is giving it to us at cost.

Now that I think about it, I'm surprised that the government hasn't taken advantage of this the same way they do by auctioning off RF bandwidth. They could charge a small license fee on every GPS device, like what Dolby has done with stereo noise reduction.

Imasquare
07-08-2012, 09:33 PM
Yeah, because the government spends money that they picked off tress, and so it doesn't cost anything. If you'd like to argue about the free market system, perhaps you should open a thread in GD, rather than posting your opinion in a forum that is supposed to be devoted to discussing facts.

Should not that advice also apply to you?

Francis Vaughan
07-08-2012, 11:03 PM
The problem with GPS is that the only way of obtaining revenue is either to control access - which means encryption - or by licences - which for markets outside the control of the US government would mean patents. Patents on GPS would have expired well before the mass uptake of the system took off anyway. Since the C/A channel was never encrypted it wasn't going to be possible to put the genie back in the bottle. The P channel is encrypted, but currently the US military has zero intention of letting the keys to that out.

Further the US government has historically had a remarkably sane attitude towards much government funded work. Basically that since it was funded by the US taxpayer, the US taxpayer has already paid for it and should not have to pay again. (This policy isn't exactly absolute, and does seems to vary with political colour and time, but in general it seems hold and is something that those of us not in the US rather wish our own governments would take notice of.) I suspect that the idea of encrypting the C/A channel may well have been discussed, but for a range of reasons not done. Making the civilian receivers more complex and with the technology of the time significantly more expensive would have been considered a bad move.

With the benefit of hindsight, and with a few decades of Moore's Law to aid us, GPS has taken on a ubiquity that it is doubtful anyone could have imagined in the 70's when the system was first designed. I remember is about 1985 talking to a manager at a local chip design company and suggesting that they should look into designing a "navsat" receiver chipset. I had in my imagination something that looked like my little HP calculator, and read out the coordinates on its little LCD screen. I thought this would be way cool. The idea that a grain of rice sized chip that did it all would iive in the corner of a smart phone that was more powerful than any computer I had ever imagined just wasn't on the horizon.

John Mace
07-09-2012, 12:47 AM
Should not that advice also apply to you?
I wasn't making a political statement. Simply pointing out that that nothing is free.

spanna
07-09-2012, 04:50 AM
BAE are looking at using terrestrial signals

http://www.telecoms.com/46282/uk-firm-pitches-alternative-gps/

Mijin
07-09-2012, 05:10 AM
I think that it is unlikely that private industry alone would have developed GPS, but I would hate for people's take home message to be "If it wasn't for the cold war and the corresponding U.S. military spending, we wouldn't have GPS".

It's quite feasible for other state(s) such as the EU, Russia or even now China to set up such a system; possibly as public-private initiatives if need be. Alternate Earth would still have GPS (IMO) it just may have come later and be less open (initially at least).

The Tao's Revenge
07-09-2012, 07:32 AM
People who understand and even advocate for the free markets never claim this.

However, it's almost certain that private industry would eventually develop something like GPS even if it wasn't satellite based. It's all a matter of time.


But would Private Industry have the same value of GPS? I don't think it would. It would be required to nickle and dime me as much as possible, or huge up front fees. "the share holders demand it".

Francis Vaughan
07-09-2012, 08:07 AM
My rather vague memory is that the early designs for Iridium included a nav payload. Part of the reason it was dropped was opposition from the military. There are now proposals for enhanced GPS capability aided by second generation Iridium satellites. There is little doubt that a commercial nav sat system could, and in the absence of GPS would almost certainly eventually have been built. It would probably have been about 20 years later than GPS, since the costs have dropped so much. Commercial launch vehicles are finally significantly cutting costs, and advances in electronics make for vastly smaller systems needed - allowing the systems to ride along with other communication payloads that pay most of the costs. However the commercial reality remains - it would not have been free, and very likely this would have very significantly slowed down the pace of development. The fact that any chip designer can enter the market with a GPS system an not pay a cent towards the costs of the system is one reason for the very fast and agghressive development of GPS. Motorola/Iridium totally got the commercial basis of the system wrong and it went broke. Billions lost. I suspect that their commercial model for a satnav system would have been equally flawed, and probably for much the same reasons, and in the same manner. Eventually things would have sorted themselves out, but we would not be where we are now with GPS.

Deeg
07-09-2012, 11:45 AM
But would Private Industry have the same value of GPS? I don't think it would. It would be required to nickle and dime me as much as possible, or huge up front fees. "the share holders demand it".
You *are* nickled-and-dimed, though. But instead of calling it a subscription fee it's called "taxes". :P

I think it's safe to say that we wouldn't (yet) have a GPS system as functional today without the government. However, we can't say this is a good thing without knowing the total cost. If we all payed $10k extra in taxes* over the last 20 years we might not think it worth it.

* - $10k number pulled out from where the sun don't shine and is for illustration purposes only.

Omar Little
07-09-2012, 12:41 PM
or huge up front fees. "the share holders demand it".

Maybe something like a tax. :rolleyes:

dracoi
07-09-2012, 04:07 PM
I suspect that private industry would pay for GPS by a combination of:
1) Large-user fees. These would be fees to users in industries like transportation, shipping, mineral exploration, logging, etc. They'd pay enormous fees for the organization to have access, possibly with some special features to justify the cost. It's a safe bet that the government itself would be one of the largest users.
2) Bundled fees. We already see this all over the place. For example, you don't pay for most cable channels separately. You don't pay for each cell tower you access (at least, not anymore). Instead, these kinds of fees are bundled into one bill so that the incremental cost is pretty small for each user, but sufficient revenue is still generated in total. You might be offered an upgrade price for increased usage or higher resolution.

It certainly would be accomplished eventually. I wouldn't be surprised if the free market version was a lot cheaper to deploy than the government version.

Hail Ants
07-09-2012, 10:12 PM
Cool thread btw...

Going from memory I wanted to point out that Pres Reagan, after the Soviets shot down KAL 007, mandated that the then military-only developing GPS system be made available for civilian use for free (albeit with the somewhat less accurate signal). Conspiracy theories aside KAL 007 was caused by the flight crew mis-programing their INS (inertial nav system) and straying over Soviet airspace. That, and the Soviets being a little too trigger happy (course there was the USS Vincennes...)

I think private interests would definitely have developed GPS. The market for commercial air & sea traffic and ground delivery services like FedEx & UPS alone, customers who would have happily paid a premium to subscribe, would have been a very viable business model. But it would have been at least a decade or two later in coming. And if it had been pay-only, even with a reduced 'consumer rate plan', it would have taken forever to reach critical mass (i.e. become ubiquitous) like it is now.

However, assuming that the cellphone industry had developed the way it did even without any civilian-use GPS signals available to it, I think today we would just be using cell tower triangulation instead. Of course that would also mean that it would only be available 'for a nominal additional monthly fee'.

Gotta love the threat of nuclear annihilation. Put a man on the Moon, gave use cheap powerful desktop computers, the internet, interstate highways, and GPS! :D

stw004
07-09-2012, 10:40 PM
Depending on how one defines GPS, the private sector has already developed differential positioning systems that can be orders of magnitude more precise than satellite GPS. These devices are already revolutionizing agriculture in the US.

Francis Vaughan
07-09-2012, 11:12 PM
The usual differential systems are differential GPS - they depend upon the satellite system, but use a local base station to correct for selective availability dither (if in use) and for ionospheric propagation delay variability, which is the dominant issue that reduces accuracy. Simply knowing that the base station is not moving can be enough to make a huge difference in accuracy, and if you sit it down for a while it can work out its location to a remarkable degree. Or you just put the base station on a previously surveyed mark. The base station transmits the error value of its GPS location to the mobile GPS receivers, and they can correct their GPS derived location. Works very well. Has been available for a decade or so. Precision agriculture was indeed an early adopter. I came across its use in agriculture 15 years ago, so it isn't new.

stw004
07-09-2012, 11:31 PM
The usual differential systems are differential GPS - they depend upon the satellite system, but use a local base station to correct for selective availability dither (if in use) and for ionospheric propagation delay variability, which is the dominant issue that reduces accuracy. Simply knowing that the base station is not moving can be enough to make a huge difference in accuracy, and if you sit it down for a while it can work out its location to a remarkable degree. Or you just put the base station on a previously surveyed mark. The base station transmits the error value of its GPS location to the mobile GPS receivers, and they can correct their GPS derived location. Works very well. Has been available for a decade or so. Precision agriculture was indeed an early adopter. I came across its use in agriculture 15 years ago, so it isn't new.

All very true, but it should be noted that systems do exist that do not require any satellite signal at all, you just need more monuments to triangulate with. Should also be noted for the purposes of this thread that until relatively recently most cell phones that offered "GPS" in fact had no GPS receiver, position was calculated using local cell towers, this would be another example of the private sector producing a workable GPS.(provided you had signal and enough towers)

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