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Do GPS tracking devices work indoors?

And if they don’t, does it matter?

Every day, vast amounts of cargo are transported around the world by land, sea and air.

Keeping track of shipments as they make their way around the globe is often achieved by use of GPS-enabled tracking devices.

Knowing the exact location of a highly valuable consignment of prescription drugs, for example, would surely make any logistics professional sleep better at night.

A tracking device can be fitted to almost anything, in an open or a covert way.

While there are many, many available options and variations on a theme, there are essentially two types of trackers – passive and active.

Passive trackers use GPS location information to record their position (and possibly environmental data such as temperature and humidity) as it makes its journey.

The data is logged within the tracking unit itself and is stored in internal memory or on a memory card and can be downloaded at a later date for analysis on a computer.

Active trackers provide real-time location and environmental information to a central tracking portal. This data can be viewed by the owner of the cargo and/or the tracking company employed to carry out the monitoring on behalf of its clients.

When the shipment is delayed, for example by stormy weather at sea or by leaves on the railway line, the tracking data can be used to update clients with an accurate timeline.

So this isn’t exactly breaking news to those who have been in the asset tracking industry for some time.  I suspect most of us have received a parcel from a delivery courier firm that provides a link to a portal so that you can see the delivery vehicle making its way to your location.

So here’s the question I have in mind: how does a GPS tracking device determine its position when it is under cover?

For example when it’s inside

  • A warehouse
  • The hold of a ship
  • A transport depot
  • A train station
  • An aircraft hangar

The issue is the same for all indoor locations where a container may spend a period of time during its journey.

If there is no sky view the GPS signal can’t penetrate to the interior of the building.

 

 

 

 

That’s OK, the last time it had a live signal was just before it went into the building, so it must still be in there, right?

Not necessarily …..

When the GPS tracking device loses sight of the sky due to the blocking effect of the building structure, it will continue to report its location periodically as it was just before it entered the building.

Not only would the tracking device be reporting stale, out-of-date location data, there may be a long acquisition delay (possibly several minutes) upon exit as the GPS receiver regains a positional fix.

Using a GPS repeater to maintain sky view while indoors

A GPS repeater relays live GPS signal from the outside of the building to the inside.

This ensures that sky view is available at all times, and the GPS tracker will always be reporting accurate location information to the tracking portal.

An antenna is placed on the roof and a coaxial feeder cable transports the signal to an indoor GPS repeater unit.

The repeater re-radiates the signal inside the facility, providing live sky view to all GPS receivers in the vicinity.

Yes, a GPS tracking system can work indoors, providing end-to-end visibility of cargo

It’s reasonably easy to solve a potentially serious issue.

A GPS repeater kit comes with all you need to provide signal in any indoor space.

We can also create a custom-designed system if the requirement is larger or more complex than a kit can handle; just let us know what you need and we’ll happily work with you to ensure you get the right solution.

Phil Whitting
FalTech GPS
01326 336 444

 

Does digital radio (DAB) work well indoors?

Do you listen to DAB radio broadcasts?

Maybe you prefer to stick to FM, or even “good old” AM if it’s voice-only programming that you’re interested in.

I recall a friend who was a news announcer on an AM radio station; he always stopped talking when he walked under a bridge …

Today we have a huge range of radio stations available to us. Even satellite TV broadcasters and Freeview TV tuners carry a few dozen radio channels so there isn’t always the need to have separate devices for your viewing and listening needs.


These days quite a lot of programming is consumed on-line, through laptop speakers or smart phone headsets. It isn’t always “live” either; a lot of programs are watched or listened to on a catch-up service.

The (romantic, nostalgic?) concept of listening to the radio doesn’t necessarily mean huddling around an electronic box of tricks these days.

Well, it may be that way in the consumer space; I am more interested in the commercial sector.

More on this subject shortly ……

Will DAB radio ever “catch on?”

Well, contrary to the opinion of a number of journalistic naysayers, the world of radio broadcasting is slowly but surely moving to a situation where FM stations are being replaced by DAB radio.

In January this year, Norway made the bold move of switching over completely to DAB digital radio – the first country in the world to do so. Unsurprisingly perhaps, there has been some backlash from this; about two million cars still have analogue FM radios in them, and presumably countless more exist in homes and offices.

I don’t know why we always have to be first, it isn’t always a good idea is it?

In the UK, the Government has yet to decide on a date to switch over from FM to digital radio completely. Before that can happen, the coverage of national digital radio has to match that of FM; in other words at least 90% of the local population has to have access to digital radio signals.

Again, unsurprisingly, there are a lot of arguments against this inexorable rollout. There are millions of FM radios out there that (arguably) give better sound quality than DAB.

That’s subjective – not for debate here.

And in such rugged terrain, what happens when your reliable FM signal disappears and you don’t have line-of-sight to the nearest DAB transmitter?

There are similarities to the situation when UK TV signals “went digital” during 2007 to 2012. A lot of the population just couldn’t receive a digital TV signal when previously their analogue antenna on/in the roof did a perfect job for them. Some had no choice other than to buy a satellite TV service when they didn’t really want it, or weren’t really able to afford it.

Does DAB radio work indoors?

Not all the time, no.

In common with other radio services (cellular, GPS, Iridium) it isn’t always possible for a signal to penetrate a building’s structure, meaning that you have to go outside to make a phone call, get a GPS fix or use your satphone.

Or listen to your DAB radio.

So, in keeping with the FalTech way of providing indoor signals for GPS and Iridium, we can also provide DAB repeater kits that enable the use of DAB radio equipment indoors. Now these aren’t really intended for use in the home, they are aimed at commercial users.

This applies to a situation where you have a good signal outdoors but it all but disappears when you go inside the building.

For example:

  • Two storeys below ground in a retail store electronics department – how do you demonstrate the latest DAB radio receiver if you are effectively in an underground Faraday cage?
  • If you are in an electronics workshop and need to test DAB receivers, do you need to remove the equipment to the car park to get a signal? Probably.
  • In a car showroom, how do you demonstrate the capabilities of the built-in DAB radio when surrounded by acres of steel-reinforced concrete and tinted glass? You can’t – the car needs to be moved outside.

DAB repeaters are regulator-approved and relatively easy to install.

There is a lot more information within this site about the uses of DAB radio signal repeaters – please take a look and let us know if we can help you with your indoor coverage requirements.

Phil Whitting
FalTech GPS
01326 336 444

 

Flashback to July 2015: Iridium repeaters are flavour of the month

In mid-2015 the supply and installation of GPS repeaters was in full flow.

We were working with a number of fire services, police forces and hangar operators among others; the number of system sales was fast approaching 500 from the first three years of business.

Alongside this activity, we received a number of enquiries for a repeater that would allow use of Iridium voice and data equipment indoors.

Now, apart from a basic understanding of what Iridium is, I had no idea if such a repeater system existed.

So I did what anyone in the same situation would have done – some serious Googling!

What did I find?

Well, the Iridium satellite constellation is a fascinating thing. The home page of the Iridium Inc. website says it all in one concise statement “The world’s only truly global mobile satellite communications company”.

Iridium Coverage

Based in Virginia, USA, the company operates 66 low-Earth orbiting (LEO) cross-linked satellites that constitute the world’s largest commercial constellation.

The graphic shows the satellites rotating the earth in a pole-to-pole direction, arranged in 6 orbits of 11 satellites each.

No matter which way you look at this – Iridium is seriously cool technology.

Of course it has a serious side to it as well; the Iridium network provides critical communications coverage anywhere in the world, crucially where there is no primary communications network (landline or cellular) available.

However, in common with a lot of wireless communications systems – it generally doesn’t work indoors due to the blocking nature of the building structure.

Next question: who makes an Iridium repeater to facilitate indoor use?

Up until now we had specialised in GPS repeater systems which provide a one-way signal path from orbiting satellites into any indoor space that is otherwise signal-deprived.

By comparison, Iridium traffic is a two-way situation; there is an incoming (downlink) and an outgoing (uplink) signal path.

After much research and a few long-distance phone calls, FalTech agreed to promote and distribute a range of military-grade Iridium repeater systems from Foxcom, based in Israel.

They’re extremely robust (DO NOT drop one on your foot!) repeater systems were designed and built initially for the Israeli military; they allow coverage indoors up to 3Km away from the outdoor antennas using optical fibre technology.

Iridium repeater system

 

There is also a coaxial-only repeater system for situations where a long optical fibre link isn’t required; essentially the outdoor and indoor units have been combined into one single enclosure with connections for two outdoor and two indoor antennas.

There is a lot more information within this site about different applications for an Iridium repeater – please take a look and let us know if we can help you with your indoor coverage requirements.

Phil Whitting
FalTech GPS
01326 336 444

 

 

 

 

 

FIVE YEARS IN THE GPS REPEATER BUSINESS (part 2)

New GPS repeater products hit the streets in 2014

As mentioned in Part 1 of this blog series we had just one product in the beginning: a repeater for GPS L1 signals only.

In 2014 the product range expanded to include support for the Russian GLONASS signals.

Why is this significant?

Well an L1/GLONASS repeater is very useful for companies involved with the testing, servicing and repair of GPS-enabled devices in workshops.

For example, many smart phones have GPS L1 and GLONASS receiver chips installed as standard.

Instead of cramming a workbench up against a window to get a signal, or maybe even taking the equipment out to the car park to get a sky view, a simple repeater installation allows indoor use of GPS equipment where normally it isn’t possible.

We published a blog post on this subject a couple of years ago – link to it below.

Repeater Technology Ensures GPS Testing Is An Inside Job

GPS signal in aircraft hangars

At around the same time we started to ship repeaters with GPS L2 support.

This is used largely in the military and civilian aviation industry, as well as some geo-surveying applications.

So the addition of L2 into the product offering led FalTech into a new industry sector – aircraft MRO (maintenance, repair & overhaul).

When an aircraft is in a hangar it doesn’t usually receive a live GPS signal and the avionics technicians can’t test the on-board navigation systems unless they can arrange for the aircraft to be towed outside the hangar.

Clearly this is a challenge if the aircraft is on jacks while the undercarriage is being serviced.

There are other, lower-level, benefits such as not letting heat out of the hangar when the doors are opened in cold weather; not to mention the disruption to the workflow.

Today the L2 repeater is unrecognisable compared to its first incarnation in 2014.

Coverage for this frequency is facilitated by a new device that has GPS L1, L2, GLONASS and now Galileo – all in one compact, IP67 waterproof enclosure.

More about this later – meanwhile here’s a sneak preview.

End of part two; more to follow soon …..

Phil Whitting
FalTech GPS
01326 336444

 

Five years in the GPS repeater business

Where did that time go?

Yes, FalTech GPS is five years old; I think such an anniversary is worthy of a little reflection to consider what has happened and what we have learned in that time.

Look out for individual blog posts in the near future that will illustrate some of our experiences in more detail.

Well, back in mid-2012 we had one product – a GPS repeater system for the L1 frequency band.

The repeaters we use are designed and built in Finland by Roger GPS Ltd. We are proud to be the sole UK distributor of Roger GPS products and since 2012 we have sold nearly 1,000 systems in approximately 10 different countries as well as the UK.

One factor that definitely helped the GPS repeater market overall was the introduction of a “light license regime” by Ofcom in mid-2012; regulators in most other countries adopted a similar approach.

Up until then the repeater industry was basically unregulated; there were some potentially lethal incidents at airports in Germany, USA and Canada caused by repeaters in aircraft hangars emitting far too much signal.

Take a look at para 2.5 in this Ofcom Statement on Authorisation regime for GNSS repeaters – it makes interesting and compelling reading and clearly states why a licensing regime was/is necessary.

By the way, it’s dated 20 June 2012 – such good timing!

So who uses GPS repeater systems?

It became clear fairly early on that the biggest client sector for us was going to be “blue light”.

The use of GPS signal repeaters in fire stations (and some police stations) is crucial in preventing delays when mobilising fire appliances and police officers in an emergency.

A repeater system in a fire station ensures that satnav devices always receive live signals from the satellites above, thus avoiding an agonising wait for acquisition of a GPS fix upon exit.

Similarly, MDT (mobile data terminal) equipment provides command and control centres with up to date positional data at all times – even when indoors.

GPS Repeaters For Fire Stations

To date we have supplied and installed repeaters in several hundred fire stations all over the UK and are currently working with a number of fire and rescue services to continue this essential work in other counties.

End of part one; more to follow soon ……..

Part 2

Phil Whitting
FalTech GPS
01326 336444
phil@gps-repeaters.com