MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Using WWVB As a Timing Reference For NTP Servers

Atomic clocks are incredibly expensive and generally they are normally only to be found in large scale physics laboratories such as MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology (Colorado) or the National Physical Laboratory in the UK.

Fortunately many national laboratories broadcast the UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) time from their atomic clocks via a radio broadcast.

In the US the national timing broadcast is called WWVB and is broadcast by NIST in Fort Collins, Colorado. The WWVB broadcast is used by millions of people throughout North America to synchronize consumer electronic products like wall clocks, clock radios, and wristwatches. In addition, WWVB is used for high-level applications such as network time synchronization utilizing NTP.

The time code contains the year, day of year, hour, minute, second, and flags that indicate the status of Daylight Saving Time, leap years, and leap seconds.

WWVB broadcasts on 2.5, 5, 10, 15, and 20 MHz and for most users in the United States, the received accuracy should be less than 10 milliseconds (1/100 of a second).

While many NTP servers now use GPS to receive a timing reference, the advantage of using a radio transmission is that a signal can be received indoors (a GPS antenna needs a good view of the sky).

However, the radio signal has a finite range and can be blocked by skyscrapers, mountains and dense conurbations. A radio based NTP server usually consists of a rack-mountable time server, and an antenna, consisting of a ferrite bar inside a plastic enclosure, which receives the radio time and frequency broadcast. The antenna should always be mounted horizontally at a right angle toward the transmission for optimum signal strength.

Similar national timing transmissions are broadcast from other countries in the UK the signal is referred to as MSF and is broadcast by the National Physical Laboratory in Cumbria, other systems are broadcast in Frankfurt, Germany (DCF-77), Japan (JJY) and France (TDF).

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