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Loss of GNSS services could cost UK more than £1bn daily says new report

By [email protected] - 20th June 2017 - 10:28

A recent report from business management consultancy London Economics highlights the cost of disruption to satellite positioning, navigation and timing services and identifies alternative technologies

The 120-page report, commissioned by Innovate UK, the UK Space Agency and The Royal Institute of Navigation, estimates that sectors generating 11.3% of UK GDP are supported directly by the various satellite constellations that comprise the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS). However, the primacy of GNSS in supporting the Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) means that an even wider range of economic activity is indirectly underpinned by GNSS services. The quantified economic benefits to the UK of GNSS have been monetised at £6.7bn per annum, comprised of £1.2bn in Gross Value-Added (GVA) benefits and £5.5bn in utility benefits (efficiency, safety, etc.).

The report notes that the UK government has invested almost £1.2bn (€1.5bn) since 2000 to develop the European GNSS infrastructure, promising greater performance and resilience, and to foster the lucrative downstream applications market, which provides significant benefits to users and the rest of society. As well as generating significant GVA, high-productivity jobs and taxes for the UK, the contracts have improved the overall competitiveness of the UK space sector and helped cement the UK’s reputation as a leading partner in European space programmes.

The economic impact of a loss of GNSS services is estimated at £5.2bn over a five-day period, says the report. This loss comprises £1.7bn in lost GVA and £3.5bn in lost utility benefits. Applications in road, maritime, and emergency and justice services would account for 67% of all impacts. For example, the loss of GNSS would severely disrupt all ports and the loading and unloading of containers for the duration of the outage. The knock-on effects are difficult to estimate in monetary terms, says the report, but evidence suggests that factories relying on just-in-time delivery would likely run out of inputs on the first day. Goods imported to the UK by other means would be severely delayed as ports and other transport operations would lose all the efficiencies brought about by GNSS. The telecommunications network, however, would not be affected. The impact on the domestic transport network would be substantial, at £2bn. Congestion would build very quickly, and delivery and minicab drivers would lose their preferred navigation method. This would impact all drivers as the increased congestion would mean that even drivers that know their route would see increases in travel time. Similarly, surveying activity – a critical input in all construction activities – would be expected to shut down for the duration of the outage, costing £345m in lost activity.

However, a range of benefits has not been quantified, as GNSS underpins activity for which a global source of accurate timing is a necessity. This includes financial markets, where the internationalisation of the industry relies on a universally-referenceable time source. Accordingly, the total benefits of GNSS estimated in the report are considered a lower bound, and the true value of GNSS benefits to the UK economy is much higher.

Several mitigation strategies are discussed in the report. It says that those most applicable for the largest number of applications are eLoran and Satelles Time and Location (STL). These high-availability services could mitigate many of the detriments in the maritime sector, and while the accuracy is insufficient for container stacking and autonomous cranes, the ability to schedule port operations and reduce downtime would help to keep ports open. The cost of resurrecting (e)Loran to a useful level of three masts would be in the order of £50m over 15 years. The cost of STL is unclear at this early stage in its development. Omnisense SP500 and Locata may be preferred for localised applications that require high levels of accuracy (e.g. surveying and agriculture). Timing applications have been found to be resilient to a five-day outage of GNSS, but could implement eLoran, STL, Locata or freely-available Network Time Protocol (NTP) servers as a source of timing for low accuracy applications. If higher accuracy is required, Precision Time Protocols (PTP) or time-over fibre networks, like NPL-time, are two alternatives..

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