GPSIA Members and GNSS Misconceptions
With the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, recent allegations have incorrectly claimed that foreign companies are supporting the Russian military by designing chips to be used with Russia’s GLONASS satellite system. To prevent future misunderstandings about how these chips are—and are not—used, it is necessary to understand the nature of global navigation technologies.
Technologies using global navigation satellite systems (GNSS), more commonly known in the US by the name of the US system, the Global Positioning System or “GPS,” affect our lives every single day. By 2031, recent estimates forecast that there will be over 10 billion GNSS devices in use across the entire world. The vast majority of GNSS receivers—estimated to be over 90 percent of all global shipments—will likely be incorporated in many of the ways consumers are already most familiar with GNSS-enabled technologies, such as smartphones and wearables.
In the U.S., GPS constitutes an irreplaceable part of our national infrastructure. In fact, GPS touches every aspect of society’s infrastructure from aviation and rail to wireless broadband and the electric grid, and supports critical applications such as precision agriculture and public safety. Many companies, including members of the GPS Innovation Alliance, design and produce GNSS receivers and other cutting-edge technologies to provide the most accurate navigational information for a wide array of uses.
Beyond GPS, the major GNSS navigation satellite systems are Europe’s Galileo system, China’s Beidou system, and Russia’s GLONASS system. These consist of satellites launched and operated by national (or in the case of the EU, transnational) governmental entities, which can in turn lead to some common misconceptions. These satellite constellations transmit certain signals that are not made publicly available because they are reserved for use in military activities of the relevant government. In each case, however, the satellite constellations also transmit navigation signals that can be used by any suitably designed commercial receiver.
In fact, because signals from GNSS constellations are freely available by satellite broadcast, many commercial GNSS receivers are designed to receive the signals from some or all available GNSS constellations. This is done because the more navigation signals that are used, the more accurate the position.
As a result, hundreds of millions of GNSS devices, including those used in critical commercial applications like precision agriculture, aviation, and transportation, as well as consumer products such as Android phones and iPhones, use freely available GLONASS signals, as well as GPS and other constellations, to make their products better. Because they are freely available, doing so in no way supports the Russian government, much less the Russian military. To be clear: the fact that GNSS manufacturers make chips and receivers capable of receiving GLONASS or Beidou signals is not evidence that they supply or support Russian or Chinese military operations.
Unfortunately, it is well known that the Russian military engages in extensive, surreptitious, and often illegal efforts to divert commercial-grade chips and components from reputable companies to modify and incorporate into military equipment. National governments devote substantial efforts via sanctions and export controls to police this activity, and responsible companies, including GPSIA members, do their best to be part of the solution. With global supply chains and millions of GNSS and other devices in commerce worldwide, this is a huge challenge.
GPSIA and its members are nonetheless fully committed to these efforts.