Y2K victims could learn from GPS industry

The year 2000 community could have learned something from the WRNO problem. WNRO refers to the "week number rollover" that will occur to the global positioning satellite (GPS) system at precisely 13 seconds before midnight on Saturday, August 21, 1999. The system will reach the end of its 1024-week clock cycle, and some GPS receivers may not cope very well.

The year 2000 community could have learned something from the WRNO problem.

WNRO refers to the “week number rollover” that will occur to the global positioning satellite (GPS) system at precisely 13 seconds before midnight on Saturday, August 21, 1999. When that happens, the system will reach the end of its 1024-week clock cycle, and some GPS receivers may not cope very well. Some will reset to January 5th, 1980 and others will simply fail.

But unlike Y2K, the good news with WNRO is two fold.

First, the fix is relatively easy to apply — it’s a simple software patch. Second, most of New Zealand’s GPS units are already compliant and may need nothing more strenuous than being switched off while the date rolls over.

“Salt water and electronics don’t mix terribly well, and that’s working in our favour,” says one GPS reseller happily. That means boaties in particular are well placed as they have newer equipment which is already compliant.

But boat owners are only the tip of the GPS iceberg. Receivers are used in a variety of applications from survey work, where they are replacing theodolites, to irrigation equipment, where they are considered essential for larger farming properties. Even hunters, trampers and hang-glider enthusiasts use GPS receivers.

“We’ve assessed all our products for both WNRO and Y2K all in one go,” says Tim Brown, a technical support engineer for Trimble Navigation, a major supplier of GPS equipment.

“We’ve gone through all the receivers we’ve ever produced and our Web site lists them for compliance.”

The site (www.trimble.com) lists only five receivers that are completely non-compliant, and Brown believes only one of those models was brought into New Zealand.

“I don’t know of any that are still operational.”

One GPS reseller has been more than impressed with the way the GPS industry as a whole has gradually phased in compliant equipment with a minimum of fuss, unlike the IT industry with its similar problems.

“As old equipment has reached the stage of being too costly to repair, the new equipment has come in and it’s ready to cope with the rollover,” says the reseller, who did not wish to be named. He points out that the manufacturers have “taken ownership” of the WNRO issue from the outset.

“I think Y2K would be quite a different issue if computer manufacturers had done something similar.”

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