MSF Downtime on March 11

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The National Physical Laboratory has announced scheduled maintenance this week (Thursday) meaning the MSF60kHz time and frequency signal will be temporarily turned off to allow the maintenance to be conducted in safety at the Anthorn radio Station in Cumbria.

Normally these scheduled maintenance periods only last a few hours and should not cause any disturbance to anybody relying on the MSF signal for timing applications.
NTP (Network Time Protocol) is well suited to these temporary losses of signal and little if no drift should be experienced by any NTP time server user.

However, there are some high level users of network time servers or may have concerns on the accuracy of their technology during these scheduled periods of no signal. There is another solution for ensuring a continuous, secure and equally accurate time signal is always being used.

GPS, most commonly used for navigation and wayfinding it actually an atomic clock based technology. Each of the GPS satellites broadcasts a signal from their onboard atomic clock which is used by satellite navigation devices that work out the location through triangulation.

These GPS signals can also be received by a GPS NTP time server. Just as MSF or other radio signal time servers receive the external signal from the Anthorn transmitter, GPS time servers can receive this accurate and external signal from the satellites.

Unlike the radio broadcasts, GPS should never go down although it can sometimes be impractical to receive the signal as a GPS antenna needs a clear view of the sky and therefore should preferably be on the roof.

For those wanting to make doubly sure there is never a period when a signal is not being received by the NTP server, a dual time server can be used. These pick up both radio and GPS transmissions and the onboard NTP daemon calculates the most accurate time from them both.


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Richard N Williams is a technical author and a specialist in the NTP Server and Time Synchronisation industry. Richard N Williams on Google+