The UK stands to lose £1bn per day in the event of a major disruption to the Global Positioning System (GPS), according to a government report.
Emergency services would also be severely affected and struggle to cope with demand. Longer emergency calls, less efficient dispatch, navigation, and congested roads would mean a total estimated loss of £1.5bn, the report said.
Besides navigation, many industries are reliant on GPS software for swathes of critical applications such as financial trading and precision docking of oil tankers.
The report, titled The economic impact to the UK of a disruption to GNSS and commissioned by quangos Innovate UK and Space UK, follows an incident last year [PDF] where an error in the GPS network triggered by the decommissioning of a US satellite had knock-on effect across a number of British industries.
GPS systems were knocked out of whack by 13 microseconds. Although the full extent of the disruption is unknown, GPS jamming and interference detection company Chronos told The Register that after receiving reports from industry sources that several other satellites were affected as a consequence.
GPS is one – albeit the original and most utilised – of four Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) that provide positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) information via satellites orbiting in space.
The report raises questions as to whether the government should invest in a national backup and what that should be, or if it ought to promote a commercially based backup that government and companies can use as needed.
"GNSS is characterised by a number of market failures that mean that there is a strong economic case for government intervention," the report read. Since 2000, the UK has invested €1.5bn in GNSS, it said.
A number of folk have been calling for a more effective GPS backup for some time. Martyn Thomas, a fellow at the Royal Academy of Engineering, described the event last year as a wake-up call. "This is a warning signal for some of the trouble that could come with so much of our economy dependent on GPS timing – such as financial trading, for example," he said. ®