Since 1923, NIST radio station WWV has provided round-the-clock shortwave broadcasts of time and frequency signals. WWV's audio signal is also offered by telephone: dial (303) 499-7111 (not toll-free). A sister station, WWVH, was established in 1948 in Hawaii, and its signal can be heard by dialing (808) 335-4363 in Hawaii.
Broadcast frequencies are 2.5 MHz (megahertz), 5 MHz, 10 MHz, and 15 MHz for both stations, plus 20 MHz on WWV. The signal includes UTC time in both voice and coded form; standard carrier frequencies, time intervals and audio tones; information about Atlantic or Pacific storms; geophysical alert data related to radio propagation conditions; and other public service announcements. Accuracies of one millisecond (one thousandth of a second) can be obtained from these broadcasts if one corrects for the distance from the stations (near Ft. Collins, Colorado, and Kauai, Hawaii) to the receiver. The telephone services provide time signals accurate to 30 milliseconds or better, which is the maximum delay in cross-country telephone lines.
In 1956, low-frequency station WWVB, which offers greater accuracy than WWV or WWVH, began broadcasting at 60 kilohertz. The broadcast power for WWVB was increased in 1999 from about 10 kilowatts to 50 kilowatts, providing much improved signal strength and coverage to most of the North American continent. This has stimulated commercial development of a wide range of inexpensive radio-controlled clocks and watches for general consumer use.
Time signals are an important byproduct of the Global Positioning System (GPS), and indeed this has become the premier satellite source for time signals. The time scale operated by the USNO serves as reference for GPS, but it is important to note that the time scales of NIST and USNO are highly coordinated (that is, synchronized to well within 100 nanoseconds, or 100 billionths of a second). Thus, signals provided by either NIST or USNO can be considered as traceable to both institutions. The agreements and coordination of time between these two institutions are important to the country, since they simplify the process of achieving legal traceability when regulations require it.
Official U.S. Government time, as provided by NIST and USNO, is available on the Internet at http://www.time.gov. NIST also offers an Internet Time Service (ITS) and an Automated Computer Time Service (ACTS) that allow setting of computer and other clocks through the Internet or over standard commercial telephone lines. Free software for using these services on several types of popular computers can be downloaded there. Information about these services can be found on the Time and Frequency Division Web site.
More information about NIST time and frequency standards and research can be obtained by contacting:
Time and Frequency Division
NIST – MC 847.00
Boulder CO 80305-3328
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