Global Positioning Systems' Place On Infobahn

Firms that manufacture GPS equipment are finding an open line into the telecom-munications business

The billion-dollar industry that the Pentagon's Global Positioning System of satellites has sparked is carving a niche for itself in the nation's race to develop an information infrastructure.

The constellation of 24 positioning satellites that the government spent $12 billion to build and

finally completed last year has already become a foundation in vehicle navigation, surveying, boating and aviation products. The latest trend in civilian applications for the system is to use the location and timing technologies from the GPS satellites to provide better paging services.

The government satellite system's role in providing paging services "is indicative of the role GPS is going to play in the National Information Infrastructure," said Charlie Trimble, president and CEO of Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Trimble Navigation, which sells receivers that communicate with GPS satellites.

Trimble and Magellan Corp., a San Dimas, Calif.-based GPS equipment manufacturer, have both recently struck deals to help paging companies use GPS satellite technologies. Magellan is actually being acquired by Dulles, Va.-based Orbital Sciences Corp., which plans to provide space-based paging services next year.

Magellan's GPS receivers will be incorporated into Orbital's two-way communications service, which will work with hand-held devices. Offering one unit that transmits messages and communicates position will make the Orbital system attractive for vehicle tracking, said Emile Yakoub, new product development specialist at Magellan. Potential customers include shipping and freight companies, and stranded car owners who want to call for help.

Using Magellan or Trimble GPS receivers, location can be determined within a meter of accuracy. But in addition to the positioning capabilities GPS offers, the satellite system also houses a master clock with pinpoint timing capabilities.

In a deal worth about $2 million, Trimble is providing the GPS timing technology to Charlotte, North Carolina-based Glenayre Technologies, which manufactures equipment for digital paging networks. Several thousand Trimble GPS modules will be installed on Glenayre controller towers to synchronize the paging firm's radio-frequency signals.

Precise timing is necessary to schedule the transmission of messages. Using the satellites' common master clock, Glenayre expects to create paging networks with 100 percent revenue-producing air time. And because timing information is received from the GPS satellites, not through the paging network, Glenayre's GPS-based paging system doesn't use valuable RF spectrum for timing synchronization.

"Since the Federal Communications Commission's recent ruling requiring channel-sharing for private carrier paging operations, the need for efficient use of the RF spectrum has become an important issue," said Gary Smith, Glen-ayre's vice president for research and development.

The use of the GPS satellites for paging networks exemplifies the "natural marriage between the telecommunications industry and positioning," said Trimble.

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