Thursday, 04 April 2019 10:31

GPS rollover may affect systems, mobile devices this weekend

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GPS rollover may affect systems, mobile devices this weekend Image by pamela430 from Pixabay

The Global Positioning System will roll over this weekend, resetting clocks due to a problem similar to that which caused Y2K, a memo from the US Department of Homeland Security says, with effects expected to be much more severe than when the last rollover took place in 1999.

The GPS is a satellite-based radio-navigation system owned by the US and operated by its Air Force. It works by sending out timing signals and relies on precision timing to operate.

The CBS Local site said GPS sends out timing signals which contain timestamps with a code based on the week and seconds of the week when GPS time began – 6 January 1980.

But GPS time uses only 10 bits to enumerate weeks and the seconds in that week, so it runs out of space after a period of 1024 weeks or 19.7 years.

The first rollover took place on 21 August 1999, but at that time GPS was not widely available for common use. Today, there are billions of users who use GPS from their mobile phones.

When the rollover happens this weekend, it could roll back a device to a wrong date, cause critical systems to malfunction due to their being thrown out of sync with time or make a personal GPS device behave in an erratic manner.

The CBS Local site said in future, GPS navigation messages would use 13 bits instead of 10, meaning that the rollovers would take place about every 157 years, rather than 20 as at present.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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