Highlands & Islands

Ordnance Survey and mountaineers monitor GPS-4G debate

Survey team on Beinn a'Chlaidheimh
Image caption The Munro Society used GPS to make fresh measurements of Beinn a'Chlaidheimh

A row over access to radio signals in the US could have implications for the future of GPS use in the UK, according to Ordnance Survey (OS).

LightSquared has sought a licence to operate its network in the States.

OS said the band of radio spectrum allocated to the company was adjacent to that used by GPS and tests had shown LightSquared signals "swamp out" GPS.

LightSquared has said the GPS industry has failed to comply with filtering standards that would avoid the problem.

Wireless communications experts said frequencies used by LightSquared in the US were different from those that would be available in the UK and added that there was no risk of interference to GPS in the UK.

The Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS) said it was aware of the debate in the US.

It said GPS was a useful tool but was not a substitute for map reading skills. It also warned the future roll-outs of 4G could potentially see the erection of new phone masts.

OS staff blogged on the situation in the US earlier this week.

In the blog OS said: "GPS and other satellite systems such as the Russian GLONASS and upcoming European Galileo are now heavily relied upon, not only for positioning - we use the service day-in day-out to help keep Great Britain's mastermap up-to-date - but increasingly for providing accurate timing, for the mobile phone networks for example.

"They are also starting to be used as part of 'Safety of Life' systems such as aircraft navigation and landing."

OS said the row was for the moment confined to the US but could become an issue for Europe in the future.

'Military operations'

Outdoors magazine Grough has reported on the OS blog.

In a statement last month, LightSquared said GPS used a band of radio spectrum 8.5-times wider than recommended.

The company said its operations could be filtered out so they did not interfere with GPS.

Image caption The MCofS said GPS was useful but walkers should rely on map skills

UK telecoms regulator Ofcom launched a consultation in March this year on how best to sell off the rights to the next generation of mobile wireless networks.

The auction of the fourth generation, or 4G, spectrum will be the largest ever, equivalent to three quarters of the mobile spectrum in use today.

The last time an auction was held, for 3G in 2000, it raised a record £22.5bn for the Treasury.

The auction itself is expected to start in the first quarter of 2012.

GPS is used by hillwalkers and was among the equipment used by the Munro Society to make new measurements of summits near Ullapool.

Last month, the society said it had recorded Beinn a'Chlaidheimh at 2,998ft (913.96m) - below Munro height. The Ordnance Survey (OS) had measured the peak at 3,005ft (916m).

The Scottish Mountaineering Club, which publishes tables of Scotland's Munros, was notified.

The club will decide whether to reduce Scotland's 283 Munros to 282.

A spokesman for the MCofS said: "Whilst we believe that GPS offers hillwalkers a helpful secondary means of navigation in the hills, GPS should never be relied on as the sole means of navigation.

"Doing so exposes the user to a number of technical risks including battery and signal failure, including the possibility of compromised or jammed signals due to military operations."

From the information it had received, the MCofS said it was possible that the introduction of 4G in the UK could not only compromise GPS signals but also result in more masts being erected across Scotland.

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