Synchronized clocks within hospitals, schools, offices, warehouses, and other facilities are essential. When all clocks within a facility display the same exact time, they help to keep operations, appointments, classes, meetings, and other important events on schedule. And when it comes time to choose a synchronized time solution, building managers and facility staff have options — but not all options are equal.
Atomic clocks, given their well-deserved reputation for accuracy, are often considered. However, atomic time has some drawbacks, especially if trying to outfit a larger facility with synchronized clocks.
What is Atomic Time, and How Do Atomic Clocks Work?
In 1949, the then National Bureau of Standards announced the world’s first atomic clock, which produced time by measuring the vibrations of ammonia molecules. Then in 1958, the NBS acquired two cesium atomic clocks from a company called Atomichron, the first company to commercially sell what’s known today as an “atomic clock.” These cesium atomic clocks precisely measure time by monitoring the resonant frequency of atoms. To establish a standard, universal time in the U.S., the NBS began broadcasting this precise time via a radio frequency signal from Boulder, Colorado, on July 5, 1963.
This radio station, known as WWVB, is still broadcast today by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (renamed from the NBS in 1988) from Fort Collins, Colorado. Two atomic clocks, NIST-F1 and NIST-F2, send a low-frequency 60 kHz radio signal to all radio-controlled clocks, which have a small internal radio receiver permanently tuned to receive the 60 kHz signal. So even though these types of clocks are often called “atomic clocks,” they are actually radio-controlled clocks that receive an atomic clock’s signal!
Pros and Cons of Atomic Time
The split-second precision accuracy of radio-controlled clocks and atomic time cannot be understated. NIST-F1, which began broadcasting signal in 1999, is so accurate that it would neither gain nor lose a single second in 100 million years. Moreover, NIST-F2, which was introduced and began broadcasting in 2014, would neither gain nor lose a single second in 300 million years! Additionally, since radio-controlled clocks continuously receive this radio signal, there’s no need to manually change clocks during daylight saving time shifts or due to accidental power loss — a major convenience!
But despite their precision accuracy, radio-controlled clocks are just that: controlled by the WWVB radio frequency signal. And even though the low-frequency signal is strong enough to travel throughout most of North America, there are certain situations where the signal may fail to reach the clock. For example, if a radio-controlled clock is needed in a basement with many building materials above it, the signal may struggle to find the clock — rendering the clock with an incorrect time or with no time at all. Or, like any radio receiver, there may be too much interference preventing the time signal from getting to a radio-controlled clock. This instance can occur if a radio-controlled clock is next to a computer, television, electronic device, or even a fluorescent light! Not ideal if needing time in a hospital, school, or place of business.
Also, in 2018, the U.S. administration wanted to cut funding for the NIST. These budget cuts would have subsequently stopped the broadcast of WWVB or two other NIST stations, WWV and WWVH, broadcasting out of Fort Collins and Kauai, Hawaii, respectively. However, those cuts never materialized, and NIST continues to broadcast all three stations for time information. But with the advancements in GPS time, one may wonder if the future of these broadcasts is in jeopardy.
If a facility chose atomic clocks for their synchronized clock solution, all the clocks would be accurate, but there’s a possibility that some clocks won’t receive signal. This scenario holds especially true in places with a lot of radio frequency noise, like hospitals, schools, and businesses.
Guaranteed Synchronized Time from Primex
A synchronized time solution from Primex can eliminate any worry about nonworking clocks. Instead of receiving atomic time from WWVB, the Primex OneVue Sync™ 72 MHz solution acquires time through a GPS satellite or Network Time Protocol server before dispersing a low-frequency, high-wavelength 72 MHz signal to all clocks throughout a building or campus. This “perfect wave” 72 MHz frequency is able to penetrate solid building materials to ensure all clocks receive time signal.
Plus, to further solidify facility-wide synchronized clocks, OneVue Sync 72 MHz is an engineered solution. An in-house Primex engineer reviews facility or campus blueprints and determines what strength 72 MHz transmitter is required to send signal to all clocks, whether analog or digital, throughout the specified area. If users experience a place where clocks aren’t working, Primex will provide the necessary equipment — usually a signal repeater — to give those clocks the 72 MHz signal.
Like atomic time, clocks within the OneVue Sync 72 MHz solution don’t require manual changes during daylight saving time shifts, as they update automatically. An additional benefit of OneVue Sync is access to the Primex OneVue® software platform. This web-based software allows users to manage the clocks entirely or individually to make sure they’re operating correctly. If a clock has a low battery or is receiving low signal strength, the software will let users know where the concern is, eliminating unnecessary trips to roofs, server rooms, or utility closets.
As an alternative to the wireless 72 MHz solution, Primex also offers wireless Bluetooth® Low Energy and wired Power over Ethernet (PoE) synchronized clock systems. All three OneVue Sync solutions utilize the OneVue software platform for easy management.
What Synchronized Time Solution is Right for Your Facility?
Atomic time, while accurate, runs a risk of being unreliable. If your facility needs synchronized clocks, Primex OneVue Sync can guarantee synchronized time to keep your staff, students, or other individuals running on the same time. For personal help determining what OneVue Sync solution best fits your needs, contact us today.