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Government to create National Timing Centre

20/02/20

Mark Say Managing Editor

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has announced plans for a National Timing Centre to support emergency responders and the energy grid.

Digital clock showing 8.00

It said the move, which involves a £36 million investment, should provide for more resilient precision timing systems than are currently available through the Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS).

The new centre will have a central location but will involve a network of researchers from several organisations, including the Universities of Birmingham, Strathclyde and Surrey, BT Adastral Park, the BBC and the National Physical Laboratory.

They will build a network of clocks around the UK, working with SMEs backed by £6.7 million to be made available through funding calls from Innovate UK.

BEIS said that the UK’s current dependence on satellite technologies for precision time poses a security risk is a satellite experiences a failure. The Blackett Review, published two years ago, identified an over-reliance on GNSS.

In addition to emergency response systems and the energy grid, National Timing Centre would also support 4G and 5G networks, communications and broadcast systems, transport and the Stock Exchange, all of which currently depend on GNSS.

Possible risk

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “Our economy relies on satellites for accurate timing. Without satellites sending us timing signals, everything from the clocks and maps on our phones, to our emergency services and energy grid would be at risk.

“I’m delighted that this world first centre will see our brightest minds, from Surrey to Strathclyde, working together to reduce the risks from satellite failure.”

GNSS currently provides access to Universal Coordinated Time (UCT) and enables synchronisation between receivers at different locations. This supports several elements of critical infrastructure, and is likely to be significant in the deployment of internet of things technologies.

Image by PEAK99, CC BY 3.0 (amended)

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