Just a few years ago, GPS was the only option if you wanted to use worldwide navigation in your IoT devices and tracking applications. With only a handful of satellites to connect to at any given moment, GPS couldn’t always offer a continuous, reliable connection in all areas. It wasn’t uncommon to completely lose the satellite signal for minutes at a time.
Today, new options for global navigation, including GLONASS, BeiDou, Galileo and multi-GNSS functionality are changing the way we design and use IoT devices for navigation-based applications. Choosing the best module can be more complicated than it used to be, but these new options allow tracking and IoT companies to provide their customers with superior service.
Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) is an umbrella term for any navigation system that offers user geo-spatial positioning worldwide. Not all GNSS setups operate in the same way or provide the same level of coverage. Modern tracking and navigation companies have five different GNSS setups to choose from.
This US-based GNSS setup is run by the military, but it’s also used by civilians. GPS used to be the standard for global navigation, and most companies used it as the basis for their applications. Today, GPS is still the most common setup in tracking and navigation devices because it is extremely reliable in areas with robust coverage and is very easy to deploy.
This Russian setup is also military-run and supports civilian use. Compared to GPS, GLONASS offers users much better coverage at high altitudes. Some companies choose to combine GPS and GLONASS to get the best possible coverage.
Like GPS and GLONASS, BeiDou is run by the military and used by civilians. But unlike other systems, the China-based setup supports a unique text feature. This feature can provide your location to a third party, which has proven especially useful for rescue efforts in the past. For instance, if a ship is lost at sea, BeiDou can automatically provide text notifications to emergency services to help locate the lost crew.
Galileo is the newest GNSS setup and is unique because it is run and used exclusively by civilians. This EU-based setup promises the best accuracy, up to 1 meter. Galileo is still evolving and expanding its services. Like BeiDou, Galileo will soon support a rescue feature called RLM, which will automatically send location information to emergency services in Europe when accidents occur.
Navigation companies no longer have to choose just one of these options when they create their applications. Companies can already use multi-GNSS setups to combine the features of two to three of these constellations. Combining satellite systems ensures that your connections are stable and that your customers get the most out of your services—even as they move around the globe. We expect to see more triple constellation setups implemented in 2018, with quad constellation setups becoming possible as early as 2020.
Multi-GNSS services will offer the best positioning information and the most accurate location readings. Businesses that operate in dense urban areas will notice an immediate difference between single and multi-GNSS setups, as the extended satellite coverage makes connections far more reliable and interference less likely. In addition to improved accuracy, a multi-GNSS setup significantly reduces TTFF (Time to First Fix) – the more satellites your navigation devices can connect with, the faster you can get a fix on your exact position.
You won’t get the same benefits by switching between single setups, since the number of satellites that you can connect with at any given moment is limited. Using more than one constellation simultaneously will vastly improve the reliability of your connection. For instance, if GPS coverage in your region is poor, your devices may automatically rely more heavily on GLONASS instead.
Multi-GNSS also means you only need one product SKU to cover multiple global markets and quickly expand into new regions. The expansion process used to be expensive and time-consuming, but with multi-GNSS setups available, chipset costs have been driven down, as has deployment time.
While all four of these GNSS options are easily supported by most existing hardware, the most common multi-GNSS setups can only support two simultaneously. It likely won’t be until 2020 that we will see all four setups being used at the same time. Knowing this, to pick the best GNSS module and setup for your business, you’ll need to consider the following options:
Dual System (GPS + _______)
A dual system uses two setups simultaneously. This is usually a combination of GPS and one of the other three GNSS setups. Dual systems are available right now and are most popular with navigation and industrial companies. The majority of these companies use a combination of GPS and GLONASS which together offer well-rounded, worldwide coverage. If your company needs global satellite coverage and you don’t have any region-specific needs, consider this combination. However, if you have more end users in China or western Europe, then you may prefer GPS plus BeiDou or Galileo.
Triple System (GPS + GLONASS +________)
In a triple system, companies use a combination of GPS, GLONASS and one other setup. While it consumes more power than a dual system, a triple system can connect to more satellites and is a great option if your company needs the best accuracy and coverage available on the market today. Until a quad system becomes available, this is the most reliable setup.
Quad System (GPS + GLONASS + BeiDou + Galileo)
There isn’t a quad system on the market yet, but it is expected to be available to companies by 2020. A quad system combines all four GNSS setups at once and represents the future of navigation technology. This type of system will be even more accurate than triple or dual systems, with reliable coverage and extremely fast connection speeds. With a quad system, your navigation devices will work anywhere a satellite connection is available. While this setup isn’t available yet, it’s still important to have a basic roadmap to prepare for the release of this technology in the future. You may want to pivot to this setup as soon as it becomes available.
Start with Sierra today to find the best GNSS module for your company. Our XM1110 and XA1110 already support a triple system with a GPS, Glonass and Galileo combination. We also offer an XA1120 and an XA1130 module for GPS + BeiDou and GPS + Galileo combinations, respectively. For more information, read our GNSS whitepaper.
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