Timing assurance goes to Hollywood

Amidst the festive offerings on Netflix, one movie stands out for highlighting a crucial, often-ignored issue: a worrying dependence on satellite signals.
Daniel Burch
Hollywood street sign

A new film popped up on Netflix this holiday season called Leave the World Behind. It’s the story of an idyllic family vacation that turns into a harrowing fight for survival. It sheds light on a critical yet often overlooked aspect of modern society: GPS vulnerabilities. While the movie was a mixed bag with an arguably less-than-satisfying ending, its underlying message resonates with growing concerns surrounding our global dependency on GPS technology.

The plot follows a family who rent a house in Long Island for a spontaneous getaway. However, their peace is shattered by a series of bizarre events, starting with an oil tanker crashing onto the beach and escalating to a complete blackout of communication devices as the characters grapple with the sudden loss of GPS and communication infrastructure. 

What makes Leave the World Behind interesting is that it taps into a rising fear – the collapse of the invisible network that underpins our daily lives. The film’s apocalyptic scenario, triggered by a cyberattack that cripples satellite communications, presents a chillingly realistic depiction of how modern society could unravel. Our reliance on GPS for navigation, communication and even critical infrastructure like power grids and transportation systems makes such a scenario more plausible than many care to admit.

Optical cesium clocks are specifically designed to address stringent synchronization requirements and protect against jamming and spoofing cyberattacks.
In recent years, experts have raised alarms about the potential consequences of GPS disruptions, whether through cyberattacks, natural disasters or geopolitical conflicts. The reliance on this technology extends beyond navigation; it’s integral to timestamping in financial transactions, synchronizing power grids and supporting emergency services.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. The narrative of Leave the World Behind also serves as a catalyst for discussing new solutions that can mitigate GPS vulnerabilities. Among the most promising advancements are technologies designed to protect positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) services by providing reliable backups when GPS signals fail. 

Optical cesium clock technology stands at the forefront of these advancements. Unlike traditional magnetic cesium clocks, the latest optical cesium atomic clocks use advanced optical pumping technology. This method offers significantly improved holdover capabilities, far exceeding current ITU-T standards, making them ideal for mission-critical network infrastructures such as fixed, mobile, power or cable networks. These clocks are specifically designed to address stringent synchronization requirements and protect against GNSS vulnerabilities like jamming and spoofing cyberattacks. With features like ease of integration into communication networks and extended holdover, these devices are not just a step but a leap forward in network synchronization.

So whether or not you find the film’s conclusion infuriating, it does act as a wake-up call. Its depiction of a world thrown into chaos by GPS failure shows the fragility of our interconnected systems, emphasizing the urgent need to develop and implement robust backups to safeguard our critical infrastructure. The film urges us to face and address the vulnerabilities that could, if left unchecked, lead to the collapse of the society we know.

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