The increasing influence of GPS timing
The old saying “time is money” has never been more true than today, with almost every aspect of modern living governed to some extent by precision timing. The world's financial markets require split-second timing to seal every transaction. Wireless communications networks need to be precisely synchronised to enable optimum use of the radio spectrum. Similarly, power companies need precision time synchronisation throughout their distribution networks for optimal power efficiency and fault tracking.
So it is perhaps ironic that all these applications (and more) now obtain precision timing to within billionths of a second free of charge from the GPS satellite network.
Gone are the days when precision timing entailed the integration of dedicated atomic clocks. Now all that is required is a simple GPS receiver to leverage the globally synchronised time signals broadcast by all satellites in the GPS network. Each satellite contains multiple atomic clocks that are regularly synchronised by the control segment, and which provide the high-precision time data for the GPS signals. When a GPS receiver decodes the time signals, the receiver itself is effectively synchronised to the atomic clocks.
The application base is large and growing. Financial institutions use GPS receivers to timestamp transactions. Each mobile communications basestation has its own GPS receiver. Power substations all feature GPS receivers. Measuring instruments incorporate GPS receivers to enable time synchronisation in instrument networks. Seismic monitoring networks use multiple GPS receivers to locate the epicentres of earthquakes. And now even Hollywood has got in on the act, using GPS time in movie slates to enable perfect synchronisation of audio and video data, as well as sequencing multiple cameras.
So while GPS and other GNSSs are largely thought of as aids to navigation, they are also playing an ever increasing role in improving timekeeping around the world.
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