Perspective - New

2018 Technology trends

Feb 2018 | No Comment
From GPS to multi-constellation GNSS

Guy Buesnel

CPhys, FRIN PNT Security Technologist, Spirent

2018 is definitely going to be the year of Beidou as it becomes a global GNSS system. China plans a further 13 launches of Beidou satellites during 2018 which is an ambitious launch schedule for any nation – but the rewards from having a global satellite navigation constellation that can compete with GPS, GLONASS and Galileo mean that the effort being put into achieving the aggressive launch schedule will prove to be a sound investment. The Chinese government may be likely to mandate the use of Beidou in China for critical applications or segments but for the rest of us it will be yet another available constellation on our connected devices such as smart phones.

Moving to the multi-constellation world from a GPS world is bringing huge benefits to the user – more accurate GPS positioning data might seem one of the more obvious benefits but performance in areas where even recently it was difficult to obtain a navigation fix has improved hugely – the days of standing on a pavement looking up at huge office blocks towering above you whilst vainly trying to obtain a GPS fix, are now something of the past. It is more likely that you will emerge from a subway station into the streets of the metropolis and have a very accurate position fix within seconds. This is because the chipsets in most smartphones have multi-constellation capability enabled and already use GLONASS and Galileo in addition to GPS signals. Many smartphones’ GNSS receiver chipsets are also ready to utilise Beidou signals too. With the huge rise in the number of GNSS enabled devices making maximum use of the new multi-constellation GNSS landscape – some market predictions suggest almost 8 billion GNSS devices being used by 2020 – there has also been an astonishing increase in the the amount of location and timing data that is being generated by these devices and where it is ending up. Location data from GNSS devices can be used from everything from locating a friend (or a device) to crowdsourced data – some of the car navigation applications on the market already use crowd sourced data to give users warning of traffic snags or good diversion routings.

One of the areas where this is occurring is in the rise of GNSS enabled fitnessrelated devices which can track a user’s movements very accurately, and the web applications that collect this data so that individual users are able to compete with friends and other users to win awards or just to compare progress.

The recent release of Strava Labs’ heatmap based on over 1 billion fitness activities uploaded to their website show what is possible – the heatmap contains a mass of useful and sometimes unusual information that could be used in many ways by politicians, planners or even malicious actors. The wealth of information here shows that GNSS big data has arrived – imagine what might be possible utilising and perhaps blending other sources of GNSS positioning data. This will lead to a revolution in itself as users, integrators and developers identify novel ways in which crowd sourced GNSS-based location data could be used.

There may be privacy concerns over the use of personal location/timing data – and they will quite rightly need to be debated as criminals have used GPS tracking technology to commit serious crimes.

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