Since the time of the wheel, humans have been inventing technology that has led to a change in the way we go about doing things. The same is true in the world of GPS/GNSS simulation. In the old days, you had basically a single choice: simulation using fixed, allocated hardware. Today, a disruptive innovation called software-defined architecture is rapidly displacing traditional bespoke architecture.

I believe the future of simulation lies in this unique, innovative and thoroughly modern approach. Let’s look at how the two compare.

Simulation Using Fixed, Allocated Hardware (Bespoke)

This approach uses custom-made hardware that is produced in small quantities.Although common, it is inefficient and not very stainable. I think of it as an “old school” approach: It is time-tested, but there are better ways available.

Why do I say that? Because, in addition to being confined and compartmentalized, a fixed hardware approach can be very limiting, offering several disadvantages:

  • Prolonged, costly upgrades and installation that require additional hardware and labor
  • The use of key features is isolated by project
  • The number of signals is limited by FPGA channels
  • Hardware is custom-made, and produced only in small quantities
  • Typically five years or more between hardware evolutions

Simulation Using an Open, Software-Defined Architecture

With a software-defined approach, you gain maximum scalability and flexibility with agile, rapid development. Upgrading to the latest features requires only a simple software download and licensed software installation.

When you look at its many advantages, a software-defined architecture is clearly superior, offering optimal value:

  • It is dynamic and future-proofed
  • Get high-end performance at a much lower cost
  • Buy only what is needed today and upgrade to greater capability later  
  • Use mass-produced high-end SDRs and GPUs and benefit from economy of scale
  • Integrate interference signals with no specialized hardware
  • New and experimental signals can be easily customized 
  • Take advantage of COTS hardware performance upgrades to increase system performance – typical two-year cycles
  • Open-source libraries and plug-ins to build on the software solution
Software-Defined Architecture_Modern GNSS Simulation.png

Key Considerations Before You Decide

If you’re torn between the traditional approach vs. the more modern, software-defined approach, here are a few things to ask yourself:

  • Are you concerned with jamming and spoofing?
  • Will you need to see the receiver at the same time you are testing?
  • Do you need to automate your tests?
  • Will any new or inexperienced engineers be using the system?
  • Are you still paying for channels and satellites?
  • How many times have you had to upgrade your hardware over the years?

In every case, I think you’ll see the benefits of moving up to software-defined architecture.

Don’t be left behind relying on old-school GNSS simulators. It’s time to move to the future … and that is software-defined simulation.

Lisa Perdue
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lisa Perdue

Lisa Perdue is a world-leading expert in testing critical GPS and GNSS systems. She has trained hundreds of engineers and technicians who are responsible for high-reliability positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) applications. She took a lead role in the development of the first GNSS Vulnerability Test System and speaks widely on the topic at many industry conferences. Lisa Perdue is currently the simulation product line director at Orolia, directing the organization’s GNSS simulation activities and contributing to its entire portfolio of resilient PNT solutions. She has more than 15 years of navigation and RF systems experience, which includes 10 years of service with the U.S. Navy, where she was a certified master training specialist.

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