Update: U.S. gains new GPS frequencies at ITU conference

The U.S. walked away from the International Telecommunications Union's month-long World Radio Conference (WRC) in Istanbul "with everything we wanted, and more" in terms of new frequencies for the satellite-based Global Positioning System (GPS), according to Ambassador Gail Schoettler, head of the U.S. delegation to the conference.

Other U.S. officials seconded that notion. For example, an official at the Department of Defense -- which operates the GPS system -- said new spectrum allocations approved at the conference will allow the Pentagon to proceed with a modernization program that calls for a third frequency to be added for nonmilitary GPS users.

Richard Skinner, principal director of the command, control, communications, surveillance, information, reconnaissance and space office in the Pentagon, said that should provide even greater positioning accuracy than users can get from the existing GPS system, which pinpoints locations to as close as 10 meters.

Skinner hailed the WRC actions as a welcome international endorsement of the Defense Department's GPS program, which has cost more than $10 billion in development and maintenance expenses. The Istanbul conference "has substantially ratified GPS as a world standard for navigation," he said. "These actions put us well down the path of modernizing GPS for new applications."

Schoettler, during a press teleconference from Istanbul today after the WRC meetings ended, said delegates from the 180-member ITU also suppressed resolutions aimed at allowing mobile satellite systems to share the same frequency bands used by GPS -- an idea that popped on, off and then back on the conference's agenda.

The U.S. had entered the conference insisting that the GPS system -- which is used by the Defense Department to target smart weapons and by millions of non-military users worldwide in everything from mapmaking to farming and to aircraft navigation -- can't share its spectrum without the threat of signal interference.

Schoettler described the pro-GPS decisions made during the conference as "long-term solutions." In the future, she said, the ITU plans to look at non-GPS bands as an alternative way to provide additional frequencies for mobile satellite systems.

Besides providing additional spectrum for GPS, the WRC also added new frequencies for the Global Navigation Satellite System operated by Russia and for the new "Galileo" navigation system under development by European Union countries, according Francois Rancy, head of the French delegation to the ITU.

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