GPS Problems in Seoul?

UPDATE (5 April): SK Telecom announced today that it was updating its systems to protect from future jamming attempts.

Only a few days after a 3 March attack on South Korean government and business websites (Yonhap), Korean media is reporting today that North Korea attempted to jam GPS signals in the Seoul metropolitan area, causing “disruptions” to both military and public GPS systems. The attempted jamming is believed to be in response to current joint U.S., South Korean military drills – previous drills last August also brought jamming attempts by the North.

Why is the North suspected? The signals sent to jam the equipment were traced back to North Korean military bases in Haeju and Kaesong, near the DMZ and, especially in the case of Kaesong, within the 50-100km range of the Russian jammers believed to have been used in the attacks. The North has reportedly purchased larger jammers capable of covering 400km, nearly all of South Korea, but they were not involved in the recent attacks.

What motivated the North? Likely the chance for a real-life test of its equipment and the effect it would have on U.S. and South Korean forces. Advanced military systems were reportedly unaffected, but older equipment, plus civilian cellphones and GPS navigations systems, experienced some problems.

Russian-made jammers? The equipment used by the North is believed to be Russian, either purchased and imported by the North, or made in the North to the specs of the Russian equipment. The device used is likely a W40,000 ($35) handheld piece of equipment manufactured by the Russian defense firm, Aviaconversiya [info on the firm from a recent ‘international defence exhibition and conference’ in Abu Dhabi, plus a small Wikipedia entry], and first displayed at the 1999 Paris Air Show.

If you’ve been having problems with your GPS in Seoul the past few days, now you know why …

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