Dual-Frequency GNSS Gaining Momentum in High-End Consumer Products

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4Q 2022 | IN-6741

Dual-frequency L1-L5 GNSS promises superior performance over single frequency solutions, especially in difficult environments. With recent announcements from Apple, most major consumer electronics manufacturers for smartphones and wearables now support products with dual-frequency GNSS.

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Dual-Frequency GNSS Solutions Hitting the Market


Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) serve as the most fundamental location technology for consumers and enterprises alike, providing wide-area, outdoor location to billions of devices. While the GNSS ecosystem has grown, many of the systems in place revolve around GPS and transmitted signals based on the L1 frequency band (1575.42 MHz). While single frequency solutions can convincingly position within several meters, the need for higher accuracy alongside difficulties with signal interference in busy environments, such as urban canyons, has led to the development of many additional GNSS signals. Based on additional frequency bands, signals on the L5 band (1176 MHz) have gathered particular attention for its higher broadcast power and modern encoding.

GNSS solutions supporting multiple frequencies (most commonly L1+L5) bring several advantages in comparison to single frequency solutions; L5 signals not only operate at a higher broadcast power to reduce the effects of noise but also lower frequency and are therefore more resistant to multipath interference, while L1 signals are retained for GNSS receivers to receive the first fix data, necessary for positioning alongside the redundancy and error correction of using two signals.

Apple's Announcement Reflects a Growing Trend


Development of dual-frequency solutions have been effective in recent years with effective low power, dual-frequency GNSS chipsets available as early as 2017 from vendors such as Broadcom, Qualcomm, u-blox, Sony, and HiSilicon. The first dual-frequency smartphone, the Xiaomi Mi 8 was released in 2018. In September 2022, Apple announced that parts of its product line now also support dual-frequency GNSS, namely the Apple Watch Ultra and iPhone 14 Pro. This is in line with many other vendors offering dual-frequency GNSS as a key feature and important differentiator specifically in flagship smartphones and wearables. Dual frequency solutions are expected to significantly improve positioning in situations where GNSS has traditionally struggled, reducing the positioning “drift” seen in mapping applications and providing superior accuracy in urban areas with tall buildings, forested areas, and tunnels, especially for pedestrians. Samsung and Asus have been including dual-frequency support in their high-end smartphones since 2020, Google since 2021, and vendors like Motorola, Apple, and Vivo are adopting the technology this year. Earlier adopters such as Nokia, Huawei, Xiaomi, and Oneplus have extended support to a wider selection of smartphones beyond flagships.

Garmin announced support for dual-frequency GNSS as part of their handheld navigation devices in 2020, later transitioning the technology into smartwatches in early 2022 alongside vendors such as Apple and Amazfit, following earlier adopters such as Huawei and COROS in 2021. Where many of the key use cases for wearables based on health, fitness tracking, and navigation leverage GNSS, advancements in GNSS chipsets are being heavily leveraged as a selling point with not only dual-frequency but also multi-constellation and reduced power usage. HONOR claims to be able to achieve a 47% faster time to first fix and 167% improvement in accuracy between their single-frequency Magic Watch 2 and dual-frequency Magic Watch 3. For chipset vendors, the supply of dual-frequency GNSS solutions remains attached to historical partnerships. Broadcom, who has benefited from early adoption of the technology, are fighting for market share against a growing trend of powerful GNSS in integrated System on a Chip (SoC) solutions from Qualcomm, HiSilicon, and MediaTek.

Ecosystem Support Will Continue to Accelerate


As availability of dual-frequency increases from both a constellation and chipset standpoint, dual frequency GNSS will find its way into other verticals where improved multipath reliability and accuracy can be leveraged. This will likely encompass a wide variety of enterprise and consumer applications not only looking to differentiate themselves through superior location performance but also facilitating location use cases not previously viable. Modern GNSS chipsets that not only support heavily reduced power usage (products from Broadcom and Sony both support dual-frequency GNSS at under 10 mW of continuous power) but also increased accuracy may be the difference maker for future high volume device shipments, such as IoT tracking for logistics or consumer trackers for pets, children, or valuables. Additionally, the superior performance of L5 on its own may prove an effective solution. Many GNSS deployments may choose to stick with L1-only solutions to reduce complexity by not requiring multiple receivers while further reducing power usage, while companies such as OneNav may be able to penetrate this space by providing standalone L5 GNSS.

Currently, L5 signals’ infrastructure is incomplete, only available on seventeen GPS satellites with the complete twenty-four satellite support targeted for 2027. Alongside this, other GNSS constellations are also moving forward with their equivalent systems, such as China’s BeiDou B2a and Europe’s Galileo E5. This is especially apparent in markets such as India where L5 signal support as part of NavIC is mandatory. As support from constellations improves, GNSS receivers will be increasingly able to leverage the new technology with an even larger impact to be seen from multi-constellation solutions. ABI Research expects this to be reflected in adoption of dual-frequency GNSS, with multi-frequency GNSS accounting for over 39% of all global GNSS chipset shipments by 2026, up from 23% in 2021(MD-OSC-105).