Author(s): Peter Bryer
GPS has become a generic term for navigation hardware and software, but the acronym specifically refers to the US-maintained Global Positioning System — a ring of 32 satellites in medium Earth orbit. A device with a GPS antenna and an unobstructed view of four satellites can calculate its location, but maintaining consistent connections can be a challenge, particularly in urban areas.
Thanks to hardware support from major chipset suppliers, most smartphones can now also connect to Russia's GLONASS satellites. Supporting two systems increases the likelihood of a device getting a fix, and decreases the time it takes to do so. Navigation company Garmin says that GLONASS-compatible devices can get a fix 20% faster than those that rely only on GPS.
Most smartphone models introduced by top-tier brands in the past few years have antennas to connect to GPS and GLONASS — what Qualcomm refers to as "dual-core location". Now devices ranging from the iPhone 4S to the YotaPhone 2 support both systems, improving the navigation experience.
The number of supported systems is set to increase. Work-in-progress satellite systems from China and the EU will drive the inclusion of more on-device antennas. Many recently announced smartphones — including Samsung's Galaxy S6 and Microsoft's Microsoft Lumia 640 — already include support for China's BeiDou navigation network.
The improvement of this kind of connectivity is a boost for suppliers of location-based apps and services that rely on a quick and consistent location fix. International competition has become a windfall for the smartphone industry.