Everything operates within time. Chemical reactions require time to complete. Signals require time to transmit. Objects require time to move or change state. However, the time scales for these processes can vary widely. Some chemical reactions, like combustion, take milliseconds, while others can take years.
Digitization has allowed unprecedented precision in measuring and controlling these processes. In turn, we need to achieve greater precision to keep them operating smoothly. A two hour-long movie, for example, requires about two gigabytes worth of data packets to be streamed from the content provider to your ISP, then from your ISP to your streaming device. Issues such as latency and lag depend not just on bandwidth, but in synchronizing data packets passing back and forth.
However, we are still not down to the microsecond accuracy of precision time protocol (or PTP). PTP, originally standardized in IEEE 1588 in 2002, is used to synchronize clocks throughout a computer network with a precision ranging from one microsecond to as little as 100 nanoseconds. Given that electrons and photons only travel about 0.3 meters or one foot in one nanosecond, this is incredibly precise. This means that PTP can synchronize the computer on the fifth floor of a building with the server on the ground floor of the building more accurately than sending an actual timing signal over that distance could.
Here are three examples of industries that can benefit from PTP time servers and their high degree of accuracy:
Transportation and Shipping
Pendulum-free, spring-based mechanical clocks were largely invented for navigation. While latitude can be determined by the position of the stars in the sky and the time precision of a calendar, longitude required the time precision of seconds, rather than days.
This is still true today. Precision navigation relies on the Global Positioning Satellites (or GPS), the same technology used in PTP time servers. With transportation networks that can span continents, the ability to precisely synchronize devices within systems allows network devices to know exactly where each ship, airplane, truck, and train within the network is.
Automated trading systems use algorithms to collect data, make decisions, and execute trades faster than humans can. While the speed of these systems are touted to give a competitive advantage over human decision-making, the speed also contributes a degree of volatility that is difficult for humans to replicate.
On May 6, 2010, automated trading systems created the Flash Crash in which the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 600 points, then recovered about 400 points over the span of about 35 minutes. Also contributing to the Flash Crash were price quotes that were delayed by as much as five minutes.
This incident highlights the need for automated trading systems to receive nearly instantaneous news information. A delay of a few microseconds could change the value of a large trade by millions of dollars.
Power companies have identified two reasons why substations for both power generation and power transmission require higher degrees of synchronization:
- Power consumption has changed. Previously, power consumption was almost exclusively resistive. That is, light bulbs, televisions, and electric blenders were large resistors that took electric power and converted it to light or mechanical work. Now, power consumption is largely capacitive. That is, electric devices contain batteries that store electric power. Without getting technical, the voltage and current in a capacitor circuit are out of phase with each other. This requires the alternating current coming out of the wall socket to provide a very stable and precise waveform. Moreover, capacitors are reactive, meaning they push back on the power grid. As this reaction is sensed, nearly instantaneous decisions must be made at substations to adjust the power transmission.
- Green power sources are intermittent. The power generated by solar panels, windmills, solar thermal turbines, and geothermal turbines can ebb and flow with environmental conditions. To maintain a stable power grid, synchronized clocks throughout the power generation system have to reconfigure power generation and transmission on the fly.
These are just a few examples of industries that can use PTP time servers. When you’re ready to invest in precise time, rely on TimeMachines.