Clinton Lifts GPS Barriers, Boosts Industry

The White House's GPS decision provides firmer ground for expansion of the worldwide navigation network

P> When the Clinton administration lifted all barriers to commercializing the Pentagon's Global Positioning System, it said the move would create 100,000 new high-tech jobs by 2000.

Industry officials aren't so sure, but they did say the move will likely prevent creation of rival GPS networks by foreign nations.

President Bill Clinton's April 1 decision ensures the GPS network will be free for all users and it upgrades the accuracy of the commercial-grade signals from 100 meters to 10 meters by 2005.

The resulting worldwide reliance on the U.S. network will boost GPS-related sales by U.S. companies, said Mike Swiek, executive director of the Washington-based U.S. GPS Industry Council.

The GPS receivers could be built into cars, cellular phones, trucks, boats any other devices, allowing U.S. companies to sell roughly $8.5 billion of GPS gear in 2000. In 1994, U.S. companies sold less than $1 billion in GPS equipment.

The GPS network of 24 satellites broadcast accurate navigation signals and timing data to hand-held receivers costing as little as $175. By listening to the GPS signals, military-grade receivers can determine locations to within a few meters, but commercial receivers can determine positions to within 100 meters. However, commercial GPS providers have for years offered GPS with software algorithms that improve commercial accuracy -- to the relatively few customers who need such highly accurate information.

Vice President Al Gore emphasized the policy's effect on job growth in California, whose votes are needed for Clinton's re-election. "This new approach... will help the emerging GPS business literally burgeon with jobs and explode into an $8 billion industry by the end of the century.... It will create some 100,000 new high-tech jobs, the majority of them in California," he said.

In the past, industry officials made similar predictions, but Clinton's announcement made the forecasts "more realistic and reliable," said Swiek.

"The 100,000 jobs must be looked at from a total economic value standpoint," said Charlie Trimble, president of Trimble Navigation Ltd., Sunnyvale, Calif.

Roughly one-third of the 100,000 jobs will be in the manufacturing area, and two-thirds will be in the support industries and marketing, said Swiek.

Clinton's decision should boost the industry's revenues by "another billion -- nobody really knows," said Len Jacobson, a GPS consultant and president of Global Systems & Marketing Inc., Long Beach, Calif.

And if the Clinton administration boosts the GPS industry's growth, "they really do deserve more votes," Trimble said.

But first, the White House must begin negotiations between U.S., Japanese and European officials to help build accurate, ground-based adjuncts to the GPS satellite network, said Trimble. The ground-based adjuncts, known as differential GPS, will allow aircraft to land automatically at airports, despite bad weather.

Critics said the administration's plan to upgrade the system's accuracy to 10 meters by 2005 would allow countries such as China and Iraq to guide their missiles with commercial GPS technology. To prevent danger, the Pentagon launched a new Navigation Warfare program to develop technology that would deny commercial-grade signals to an enemy during wartime. The program office is based in the U.S. Air Force's Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles.

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