U.S. agencies begin testing eLORAN to reinforce GPS

The Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate, the U.S. Coast Guard, and two technology companies have agreed to begin testing eLORAN technology in the United States as a complement to GPS. The action could help push eLORAN  forward on the global stage--and that could put the technology into the purview of the world's wireless industry since eLORAN technology has been described as much more effective than GPS at locating indoor users.

DHS' Science and Technology Directorate and the U.S. Coast Guard said they are working with Exelis (a global aerospace, defense, information and services company) and UrsaNav (an engineering and information solutions company that supplies eLORAN equipment) on a cooperative research and development agreement. The entities plan to use former LORAN-C sites to test eLORAN low frequency service.

"The team will evaluate eLORAN as a potential complementary system to the current Global Positioning System (GPS) currently in wide use throughout the United States. The capabilities and potential utilization methods of eLORAN will be explored in depth to identify all strengths, capacities, and potential vulnerabilities of the technology," the entities said in a release announcing their move.

Exelis said it plans its first eLORAN broadcast from Wildwood, N.J. The company said the test will likely create a usable signal at a range up to 1,000 miles. The technology works on a different frequency than GPS and can be used to strengthen location information in cases where GPS is unavailable or has been blocked.

"eLORAN is an ideal technology to complement GPS for critical, resilient and assured PNT (precise positioning, navigation and timing)," Ed Sayadian, vice president of Civil & Aerospace Systems for Exelis, said in a release. "eLORAN is a difficult to disrupt technology that offers PNT and wide area broadcast data capabilities indoors, in underground locations and other GPS-denied environments."

It's exactly that element of eLORAN that could make it relevant for the telecommunications industry. As Inside GNSS points out in a detailed article on eLORAN, the technology could improve wireless communications inside of buildings because operators would not have to connect a GPS antenna to the roof in order to obtain GPS signals. According to the article, such GPS signals provide the timing information necessary for the operation of wireless networks.

"If you have a tall building with a huge number of occupants and you want a space on the roof, you pay through the nose for it. Now eLORAN delivers that timing indoors at ground level, even under the ground." David Last told Inside GNSS recently. Last is an official with the General Lighthouse Authority (GLA), which manages the eLORAN system for the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Despite the vote of interest in eLORAN from the DHS' Science and Technology Directorate and the U.S. Coast Guard, the technology is not uniformly spreading across the globe. As Inside GNSS pointed out, French and Norwegian officials don't plan to support eLORAN and are in the process of switching off their stations.

Meantime, other international players are moving to support the technology. According to Lloyd's List, UK-based shipping company Euroship Services has conducted successful trials of eLORAN technology--Euroship managing director Frank Davies told the publication that GPS signals sometimes get distorted when ships travel under bridges, and eLORAN can alleviate that situation.

For more:
- see this Lloyd's List article
- see this release
- see this Inside GNSS article

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