When you set your watch to perhaps the speaking clock or the time on the internet, have you ever wondered who it is that sets those clocks and checks that they are accurate?
There is no single master clock used for the world’s timing but there are a constellation of clocks that are used as a basis for a universal timing system known as UTC (Coordinated Universal Time).
UTC enables all the world’s computer networks and other technology to talk to each other in perfect synchronicity which is vital in the modern world of internet trading and global communication.
But as mentioned controlling UTC is not down to one master clock, instead, a serious of highly precise atomic clocks based in different countries all work together to produce a timing source that is based on the time told by them all.
These UTC timekeepers include such notable organisations as the USA’s National Institute of Standards and Time (NIST) and the UK’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL) amongst others.
These organisations don’t just help ensure UTC is as accurate as possible but they also provide a source of UTC time available to the world’s computer networks and technologies.
To receive the time from these organisations, a NTP time server (Network Time Server) is required. These devices receive the broadcasts from places like NIST and NPL via long wave radio transmissions. The NTP server then distributes the timing signal across a network, adjusting individual system clocks to ensure that they are as accurate to UTC as possible.
A single dedicated NTP server can synchronize a computer network of hundreds and even thousands of machines and the accuracy of a network relying in UTC time from the broadcasts by NIST and NPL will also be highly precise.
The NIST timing signal is known as WWVB and is broadcast from Boulder Colorado in the heart of the USA whilst the UK’s NPL signal is broadcast in Cumbria in the North of England and is known as MSF – other countries have similar systems including the DSF signal broadcast out of Frankfurt, Germany.