The Pentagon has been working for years to develop alternatives to GPS. But those efforts have accelerated recently, driving Iridium and NextNav to offer new Positioning Navigation and Timing (PNT) services.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies

March 11, 2024

3 Min Read
Aerial view of the United States Pentagon, the Department of Defense headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, near Washington DC
The Pentagon has been working to develop GPS alternatives.(Source: Jeremy Christensen/Alamy Stock Photo)

A federal push to create reliable alternatives to the Global Positioning System (GPS) constellation is driving a growing number of telecom companies into the market for Positioning Navigation and Timing (PNT) services.

And the PNT race is getting heated: In just the past week, Iridium said it would spend $115 million to bulk up its PNT offerings, while NextNav said it would spend $50 million on the effort.

The rewards may be significant. Citing forecasts from research and consulting firm Spherical Insights, Iridium said the PNT market could be worth up to $3.5 billion in 2032.

Iridium CEO Matt Desch explained that positioning, navigation and timing services are important to a variety of markets. Indeed, 5G networks use timing technologies including GPS in order to coordinate and synchronize operations across wide geographic areas.

"This market is growing; it's a perfect application of our network, and this solution solves a problem for critical industries better than anything else," Iridium's Desch said in a statement.

The details

Iridium, for its part, announced last week it would acquire Satelles, a company that currently provides satellite-based time and location services that complement GPS and other GNSS (global navigation satellite system) operations. Satelles' operations already run atop Iridium's satellites.

To purchase the remaining 80% of Satelles that Iridium doesn't own, the company said it would pay about $115 million through a tack-on to its term loan. Iridium said it expects the Satelles business to generate over $100 million in service revenue per year, by 2030.

Separately, NextNav said it would acquire an additional 4MHz in the lower 900MHz band from Telesaurus Holdings and Skybridge Spectrum Foundation. NextNav said it would pay the $50 million price tag through a combination of cash and NextNav stock.

NextNav's purchase comes a few months after Mariam Sorond, a wireless executive who previously worked at companies including VMware, CableLabs and Dish Network, took over as the company's new CEO.

NextNav already offers a variety of positioning services, including ones running through its TerraPoiNT and Pinnacle networks. And last year, the company said it built a new network in Palo Alto, California, to test a "5G waveform on a TerraPoiNT network ... to demonstrate the ability to provide resilient PNT services combined with 5G broadband data."

The PNT push

According to SpaceNews, GPS arrived in the 1970s amid a Pentagon effort to improve military navigation and timing operations. But over the decades, the technology made its way into a wide range of civilian applications.

For its part, the Pentagon has been working for years to ease its reliance on GPS. That effort appears to have accelerated in recent years following Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine that included extensive GPS jamming and spoofing.

The latest: The US Space Force recently launched a program called AltPNT seeking proposals for improving PNT resilience.

According to SpaceNews, other companies offering PNT alternatives to GPS include Xona Space Systems, TrustPoint, Navsys and others.

"Because of the widespread adoption of PNT services, the disruption or manipulation of these services has the potential to adversely affect the national and economic security of the United States," according to an executive order from former President Trump in 2020. "To strengthen national resilience, the Federal Government must foster the responsible use of PNT services by critical infrastructure owners and operators."

About the Author(s)

Mike Dano

Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading

Mike Dano is Light Reading's Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies. Mike can be reached at [email protected], @mikeddano or on LinkedIn.

Based in Denver, Mike has covered the wireless industry as a journalist for almost two decades, first at RCR Wireless News and then at FierceWireless and recalls once writing a story about the transition from black and white to color screens on cell phones.

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