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I know there is a wireless signal all over the US (at least) sending out the current date and time. Some clocks use it so they don't need set, just not sure what its called. Is there a module or a circuit out there to listen to this to get the time into a MCU?

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For USA, take a look at this –  AndrejaKo May 14 at 16:54

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

There are a number of signals being broadcast that contain date and time information.

As @andrejaKo mentioned there is WWV which is a radio station run by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. This station broadcasts on several frequencies that can be picked up with a general coverage shortwave receiver. 5, 10, 15, and 20 MHz come to mind. There are modules available which can receive this signal and convert it into digital data for MCU interfacing.

Second is the GPS satelite system. There are receivers that can pick up GPS signals and provide time base information for computers.

Third, some broadcast radio and TV signals have digital information embedded, which contains date and time information.

Mobile phones always seem to know what time it is. I don't know if you can get that information from the signals transmitted by the mobile phone network, or not, unless you have a device with a mobile phone service plan.

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I recommend GPS for this.

GPS modules generally output a NMEA serial pattern containing (among bunches of other things) a UTC timecode. gpsinformation.org is an invaluable reference.

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While gps prices have plummated to the disposible product range, they are overkill in size/power, ad not all or even most have serial output. Nice outside the box thinking tho –  Passerby May 14 at 20:10

Another option is to require the device to log into a WiFi network and use a standard NTP time server, such as these ones from NIST.

I've had spotty results getting the WWVB signal, though my Casio watch seems to manage it if I point it just right at the window and leave it overnight.

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