Russia's Glonass GPS system suffers major disruption

The glitch caused problems worldwide as many receivers use Glonass signals

A status page on the website of the Russian Federal Space Agency notes disruption to Glonass satellites on April 2, 2014

A status page on the website of the Russian Federal Space Agency notes disruption to Glonass satellites on April 2, 2014

Users of satellite navigation systems around the world were experiencing problems this week after Russia's Glonass satellite positioning system was hit by a major disruption.

So far, the cause of the problem is a mystery. It started around 9 p.m. GMT (5 p.m. Eastern Time) on Tuesday, when most of the 24 satellites that make up the Glonass constellation began broadcasting erroneous data about their locations. The ability of satellite positioning receivers to provide an accurate fix is tied to the accuracy of the signal from space, so the problem immediately affected users.

"We could see this happening all over the world," said Drew Davies, an operations executive at Canadian geo-services company Rx Networks and one of the first to spot the problem.

The U.S.' Navstar Global Positioning System (GPS), the best known system for navigation, was not directly affected. But many modern GPS receivers and smartphones also rely on Glonass signals for an accurate location fix, so the Russian glitch caused problems well beyond that country's borders.

The issues would have affected "urban canyons," for instance, or streets bordered by high-rise buildings that block out most of the sky. "If you can only see three GPS satellites, your phone might use a couple of Glonass satellites to get a location," Davies said.

While smartphone users had to put up with errors, some professional users were able to minimize the disruption.

"If you are unable to get a fixed position, deactivate the Glonass satellites on [your] receiver," Belgian geo-services company Coudere told its users.

A status graph on the website of Russia's Federal Space Agency confirmed the error impacted all Glonass satellites at some point, with the system finally returning to full health around 11 hours after the trouble began.

Despite the widespread disruption, the space agency has yet to provide details about what caused it.

"The likelihood is that bad ephemeris data was uploaded," said Davies, referring to the celestial data that satellites use to determine their position.

Satellite navigation systems are vitally important to the global economy. The logistics industry relies on satellite navigation to manage the global flow of goods, aircraft use it for navigation, and deep-sea oil rigs use it to maintain their position at sea. The time signals they provide also help numerous automated systems stay accurate.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags telecommunicationpopular sciencesatelliteRussian Federal Space Agency

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Father’s Day Gift Guide

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?