Low-Power GNSS Solutions to Open New Possibilities in IoT

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4Q 2018 | IN-5300

A new generation of power-efficient Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) devices is set to hit the market and put an end to the paradigm of power-hungry satellite location. If these technologies can integrate and complement Low-Power Wide-Area Network (LPWAN) solutions with more accurate tracking and long-lasting batteries, they will unlock new types of asset-tracking opportunities where high-accuracy and real-time tracking are not as important as power consumption in a very energy-constrained environment. These opportunities will span many verticals, ranging from smart cities to agriculture.

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The Elephant in the Room for GNSS Is IoT


It has been a long-standing paradigm of location technologies that GNSS positioning is notably power-hungry. Therefore, it has been unsuitable for power-constrained purposes. However, the unveiling of a range of chipsets and Intellectual Property (IP) may disrupt this status quo. Low-Power (LP)-GNSS refers to solutions in GNSS-enabled devices that dramatically reduce their power consumption, allowing for trackers with batteries that may last for years or even longer than a decade. Some of the companies currently competing for space in this new branch of the GNSS market include u-blox, with the 2017 release of its UBX-M8230-CT chip, as well as Samsung with the Exynos i S111. On the IP side, there is Imagination Technologies with its recently announced Ensigma Series 4. These companies are aiming at use cases that span different segments, including low-end wearables, health monitors, and Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, among others. Notable examples include fixed asset tracking, where constant tracking or high accuracy is not necessary. For instance, OrangeTek is looking into the possibility of fitting street lights in smart cities with LP-GNSS solutions that can broadcast their location when a fault has been detected or when required to do so.

To achieve this, some solutions seek to minimize the amount of time the Radio Frequency (RF) is activated by employing a “snapshot” approach to GNSS tracking, as opposed to the more battery-straining real-time tracking. Many end markets in the Internet of Things (IoT), such as livestock tracking, will not require always-on real-time location and will only need to use GNSS a few times per day or in geofencing applications. The latest IP from Imagination Technologies adopts this snapshot approach through reduced acquisition time and offline processing in order to help reduce power consumption in these applications. This often comes at the cost of lower location accuracy compared to common GNSS, although it is still more accurate than LPWAN-based location techniques.

Another source of energy consumption in these devices is the constellation and frequency offering. For now, multi-frequency support is out of the question for power-constrained uses, and L1/E1 is the frequency of choice for being more efficient. Customers will also have the option to select from a number of GNSS constellations depending on their specific needs, including Global Positioning System (GPS), GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou, and Satellite-Based Augmentation Systems (SBAS), and could also activate multi-constellation functionalities for increased accuracy. However, this will come at the cost of increasing battery consumption, because constellations with larger signal bandwidth and more complex codes like BeiDou and Galileo can consume up to 8X more battery than the usual GPS-only solutions.

Integrating LP-GNSS Solutions with LPWANs 


Until now, widespread adoption of GNSS tracking for battery-constrained devices has been hampered by the intense power consumption of GNSS Integrated Circuits (ICs), and as result, customers have had to compromise with lower location accuracy by using LPWAN techniques. In applications like asset tracking in the agriculture sector, which can be rather price-sensitive and only require ad-hoc monitoring in some cases, it is especially important that tracking devices have long-lasting batteries; depending on the number of assets tracked, it is impractical or unfeasible to change the batteries on every device weekly. Therefore, the use of power-efficient GNSS devices will quickly expand for applications not requiring real-time tracking.

In order to add value to chipsets, manufacturers are also integrating LP-GNSS solutions with short-range technologies like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, as well as LPWANs. Samsung’s Exynos i chip, for example, is specifically designed for Narrowband (NB)-IoT support. Imagination Technologies is also looking to apply its Ensigma Series 4 GNSS solution to NB-IoT devices, although its portfolio includes support for more than 30 connectivity standards. As a result, it is clear that some in the industry do not perceive GNSS and LPWANs to be in direct competition, but rather as complementary technologies. ABI Research believes that the integration of GNSS with other wireless technologies can help provide customers with better performance and reduced power consumption at attractive price points versus employing companion chips or settling for more restricted feature sets.

Here's What We Think


As per ABI Research’s Outdoor/Wide Area Location Technologies market data (MD-OSC-102), LPWAN connections for asset tracking are set to skyrocket during the next few years, with technologies like Sigfox set to achieve a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of up to 89% between 2019 and 2023. If these LP satellite location capabilities can be successfully integrated in the new LPWAN shipments, the LP-GNSS solutions will have a wide addressable market to explore and provided one does not need real-time tracking or high precision, no clear downside to its adoption. Snapshot tracking is well suited for asset tracking purposes because pallets, instruments, machinery, and cattle do not need to be checked on constantly, but rather at regular intervals. Therefore, ABI Research expects that LP-GNSS will quickly dominate this vertical market.

The same may not be said, however, of the aftermarket telematics and fleet management vertical markets. Devices in such use cases are not as battery-constrained, because they make use of the vehicle’s battery, so it is not expected that LP-GNSS adoption in these markets will be extensive, especially because aftermarket telematics purposes often require real-time tracking.

NB-IoT is one of the main technology choices in this market, and possibly LPWAN, for smart city applications in the coming years. ABI Research expects LP-GNSS connections integrated with NB-IoT to reach the order of hundreds of millions worldwide in less than 5 years, with substantial growth especially in China and the United States.


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