GPS Glonass Perestroika Brings new Level of Performance to Cellular Market

The restructuring of GPS design to support Glonass highlights the continued quagmire that is Galileo and represents a new shift in performance for the consumer location market.

With this week’s announcements from ST-Ericsson and Broadcom, Glonass has finally arrived to the mass market. Glonass is not without its own chinks in the armor, most recently the failed launch of three satellites in December. However, it currently has 22 healthy satellites and with current GPS performance techniques offering increasingly diminishing returns, Glonass is the next logical step.
So how is this better for LBS? Well your PND still won’t be able to work indoors, and you won’t be able to check-in to the nearest centimeter. What Glonass will do is stabilize the user experience, helping to eradicate many of the issues around dropped fixes and urban canyons, particularly in the northern hemisphere. Put very simply, the more birds in the sky the more likely you are to see one. This benefit will be felt most in the cellular market where suboptimal antennas and RF environments, have created an inconsistent and frustrating experience that still hinders long term usage. This market is discussed in greater detail in
Will GNSS chips now be the size and cost of a Motorola Dynatac? Well, GPS/Glonass support requires a re-architecting of the RF front-end, to support both signals. This can result in an increase of 15-30% in size with a corresponding increase in cost. However, as manufacturers move to 45nm nodes (as is the case with St-Ericsson), the additional size can be absorbed, while much of the cost will be negated in high volumes.
The real problem here will be how to market this new and improved location experience. Perhaps, the industry should take its lead from the men’s shaving industry, where clever names are used to hide the fact it stopped being useful after 2 blades ago - maybe something with the word stealth in it!
And what of poor Galileo? Five years ago everybody was talking about it, with system support quickly becoming table stakes. Despite 2011 being Glonass’ year, I believe that Galileo has reached its nadir courtesy of Julien Assange, and by 2015 it will be at the forefront of the next revolution. You still won’t be able to locate indoors using satellites, but you might start getting down to the centimeter accuracy with L1/L5 receivers, which really will be a revolution in the industry.