The battle against truckers and motorists who jam GPS signals has moved up a gear. A new handheld radar can pinpoint which vehicles are illegally using the jammers to stop their bosses from monitoring where they drive or to dodge automatic tolls on motorways.
Used just like a speed gun, a police or customs officer would train the iPad sized gadget, made by Chronos Technology of Lydbrook, UK, on queues of traffic – or even on people walking down the street.
The device is needed because a £50 jammer, which can be bought online, can cause widespread GPS outages thanks to the low power of the GPS satellite signal.
Until now, says navigation engineer Ian Cotts at Chronos, a number of devices have been available to law enforcement officers who want to detect jammers. But existing detectors can only detect the presence of a jammer, not find out where it is.
Chronos says that its £1600 GPS Jammer Detector and Locator System can identify where a jammer-using vehicle is in a multi-storey car park – and can pinpoint portable devices in drivers’ pockets when they have left their cars.
Chronos has not said how the device works, but it is likely it triangulates signal strength to work out exactly where the 1.5 gigahertz signal that a GPS jammer emits is coming from.
Bringing down the system
GPS jamming can cause many problems. For example, a GPS-based landing system at Newark Liberty International Airport malfunctioned twice a day in 2010 – until the source was found to be a driver on the nearby highway using a jammer to avoid paying tolls on outbound and return journeys.
And Chronos, with funding from the UK Technology Strategy Board, last year confirmed with a network of covert receivers that GPS jamming is rife in the UK.
This week, for example, The Economist reported that the area around the London Stock Exchange is suffering daily outages. No one yet knows what is causing it.
That matters because a GPS jammer does not only scupper the operation of satellite navigation systems within about 300 metres. It can also disrupt the reception of the atomic-clock-based timing signals from GPS satellites. These signals are used by financial institutions to time stamp transactions and by utility companies to synchronise power grid operations.
The growing volume of GPS jamming cases has finally led to the UK telecoms regulator, Ofcom, addressing the fact that is illegal to use but legal to own a jammer. “We are consulting with government right now on the potential introduction of regulations to prohibit ownership of GPS jammers,” a spokesman said.