Apple applies for license to install new GPS testing facility at Apple Park

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Filings with the FCC request permission for a special license to install GPS equipment show that Apple is planning to increase its GPS testing. It's the first time Apple has requested such a license.

While Apple has continually included and tested GPS receivers with iPhones, it has now expanded that testing with a new application to the Federal Communications Commission.

For the purposes of licensing, GPS transmitters are included in radio broadcasting legislation, and enforced jointly by the FCC and the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which is part of the Department of Commerce.

Companies wishing to use transmitters must apply for an Experimental License Filing, and Apple did so on January 23, 2020. The application has not yet been granted, but it has been made by Apple systems design engineer, Harsha Hanumanthaiah.

Hanumanthaiah has been at Apple since May 2018 and lists his previous employment as being an engineer at Qualcomm.

The application specifically covers the installation of GPS equipment, listed as a "new or modified radio station" within the FCC's definition, and operate it initially for a period of up to two years.

In the application, Apple says that there are two objectives.

"[First] illumination of the part of the facility, located at 1 Apple Parkway, Cupertino, CA,with a GPS signal to allow for the testing and experimentation indoors for continued exploration of utilizing GPS technologies within their devices to provide innovative applications and continue to provide safe products.

[Second] further design, development and enhancement of existing GPS applications to provide greater efficiency and more effective means of utilizing GPS derived information."

This would mean Apple installing a GPS transmitter or repeater within Apple Park in order to better control and test its own GPS devices. Apple plans to use one GPS repeater called a Metro GNSS — where GNSS is the global term for all GPS-like systems.

Apple's sketch of where the GPS device will be located. If they'd known we'd find it, they might have used a ruler. Sorry, Apple.
Apple's sketch of where the GPS device will be located. If they'd known we'd find it, they might have used a ruler. Sorry, Apple.

Companies applying for such an experimental license must specify where the device will be used, and that device cannot be moved without the license being re-applied for. Apple's notes on the location of the device say that it will be in Apple Park at 1 Apple Parkway. A sketch with the application further shows that the Metro GNSS will be installed in a second floor office.

While this appears to be the first GPS-related application, Apple has previously applied three times for licenses to conduct tests regarding cellular and consumer radios. It was successful each time, with the applications being approved after between one and two months.

Apple also recently had to advise users of iPhone 5 to update their iOS version because of a scheduled alteration to the worldwide GPS network.