Next-Gen GNSS: Eyes in the Sky

Smart Communication

Next-Gen GNSS: Eyes in the Sky

Next-Gen GNSS: For years, different navigation satellite systems, primarily the United States’ GPS and Russia’s Glonass, have allowed people and organizations to detect their devices and compute locations accurately and securely. However, the more that 5G, automated driving, and smart cities become mainstream, it’s becoming clear that a broader range of location-based applications will need to be supported to meet specific market and individual needs.

by Steve Feeko

The Internet of Things (IoT) is steadily becoming the “Internet of Everything” as every possible object – from – buildings, utilities, and cars to baby bottles, forks, and medication – can be connected to networks that capture a steady stream of information about their use. However, none of this growth is possible without location awareness provided by global navigation satellite systems (GNSS). Viewed as a utility often taken for granted, GNSS enables real-time and accurate product tracking, telematics, timing, and other positioning-enabled, machine-to-machine communication. As the IoT market continues to expand, so will the demands and expectations placed on these satellite systems.

Getting IoT off the Ground

Now that connectivity and mobile devices are natural aspects of everyday life, more people are expecting to stay connected. Whether they, or their possessions, are located in a remote forest, mountainous environment, or the middle of a city lined with blocks of skyscrapers, no one wants their services disrupted whenever a receiver’s line of sight to the navigation satellites is blocked.

Next-Gen GNSS - the Sky is the limit

The Sky’s the Limit: Europe’s Galileo GNSS is just the beginning of an era of spectacular technology that will increase the functionality of location-based devices, especially in IoT applications.

The European Union (EU) hoped its Galileo satellite navigation system is a step toward satisfying evolving IoT need and enabling manufacturers and developers to create new devices and applications that leverage stronger GNSS signals. It now looks like the EU was right as the chipset market is already producing and offering Galileo-ready devices, such as smartphones and in-vehicle navigation systems, even though the system is only a little more than halfway deployed and will not be fully operational until late this year.

Britain Loses out

One of the many unintended (and unexpected) consequences of Britain’s attempt to leave the European Union became apparent long before the Brexit deadline. Initially, the UK was deeply involved in building the European Galileo GNSS system, with British firms winning a contract in 2010 to provide the backup monitoring center for the satellite navigation system, which was launched in 2016. However, once results of the Brexit referendum were in, the EU hastily canceled the contract and awarded it instead to Spain, which is building the new facility in San Martin de la Vague, near Madrid. The investment reportedly lost the UK €1.4bn and more than 100 jobs. In January 2018, an EU spokesperson said; “The committee [of the member states] voted in favor, by a large majority, of our Commission proposal to relocate the center to Spain.” The reason given was legal concerns over the security of Galileo through key components of the system being controlled by a non-EU country.

Next-Gen GNSS - European GNSS Service Center


What next-Gen GNSS means for your Business

Galileo undoubtedly offers an excellent opportunity to provide that added layer of GNSS support that GPS and Glonass provide. However, businesses will still need to embed specific software into their current IoT systems to benefit from the latest features. Galileo has been designed to provide something more than simple positioning: it will provide an extension to the CospasSarsat search and rescue (SAR) beacon constellation, which requires additional decoding capabilities, and adds acknowledgement (ACK) signaling so those in distress know their message has been registered and help is on its way. There are five aspects of Galileo that businesses should take into consideration:

  • Assets connected within a network: With a geofencing capability, companies can manage and track their assets remotely in real time and be alerted when that asset moves. The latest low-power and energy-efficient technologies provide longer battery life. With the latest advancements in cloudbased computing, the amount of assets tracked and managed has multiplied greatly.
  • Intelligent vehicle and highway systems: With the increasing interest and innovation of autonomous driving, IoT can provide critical, real-time information, not only to aid the GNSS receiver for navigation in harsh environments but also to assist the driver with forecasting information. Along with the fusion of multiple sensors, GNSS combined with IoT will be a necessary part of this new technology.
  • Health and safety: From medical alerts to the tracking of patients, transplant organs, and valuable equipment, the combination of GNSS and IoT can not only save lives with critical real-time health information tagged to a location but also increase the efficiency of monitoring vital symptoms.
  • Clock and time synchronization: Applications related to clock and time synchronization are increasing rapidly. Telecom networks, electrical grids, and even the world of finance rely on accurate, coordinated time. The synchronization and transfer of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) can easily be accomplished with accurate timing provided by a GNSS receiver and IoT.
  • Security: With the improvements in anti-jamming and anti-spoofing protection for civilian users, the latest in GNSS technology will provide more robust and secure alarm notification. This additional line of defense will help ensure that devices and the systems connected to them won’t fall victim to hackers looking to misreport location.

China’s Baidu system

Next-Gen GNSS - Long march of GNSS - source ©: Meinberg Funkuhren GmbH & Co KG
China has reluctantly relied on the US GNSS system, known as GPS, for decades, but that dependency is rapidly eroding. In 2011, the People’s Republic began launching a series of satellites, initially to provide navigation services regionally. By the end of this year, the Baidu system is scheduled to have 35 satellites in operation and to provide full global coverage. Experts recommend that Western companies planning to do business in China consider adding Baidu capability to their systems and products in addition to GPS. In fact, Qualcomm, the giant chip manufacturer based in California, already offers Baidu-ready semiconductors for smartphones, as do Samsung, Huawei, and Xiaomi. The German car manufacturer Volkswagen was one of the first to announce it was joining Baidu’s Apollo platform alliance, which provides self-driving guidance for autonomous vehicles. Baidu itself is not only deploying Apollo in Asia but also in the San Francisco Bay Area and other regions of the United States. It is widely expected that China will mandate that airplanes flying over Chinese airspace must be equipped with Baidu-compatible navigation capability at some time in the near future. As yet, neither Airbus nor Boeing have publicly committed to adopting the Chinese system in their aircraft.



Galileo is just the beginning of an era of spectacular technology that will increase the functionality of location-based devices. Very soon, easy access to information on the position of people and services will become the standard for mainstream, as well as niche, use cases for IoT. As opportunities for innovation emerge and chipset technologies evolve, businesses will be able to leverage new ways to answer the fast-changing requirements of the marketplace. For this reason, IoT solutions should employ GNSS chipsets that already offer users the leading-edge technology necessary to take advantage of today’s sophisticated satellite systems and the flexibility to seize future opportunities.

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