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Title Phones
Edited by GMV
Level Basic
Year of Publication 2011
Logo GMV.png

With the advent of smarthphones, many mobile phone devices are now equipped with GNSS receivers and many more are offering the possibility to use GNSS information within their applications.

By bringing the GNSS technology into mobile phone, these devices can offer a powerful service combining positioning and internet access in the same device, making the use of these equipments especially important for emergency situations, but also for navigation and other recreational activities such as games.[1]

Product Description

Phone navigation

A GNSS cell phone is a phone with satellite navigation technology embedded. The features provided to the user depend on the pre-installed or installable applications that support GNSS on that specific phone. These features be the same as those in handheld outdoor receivers, sport watches, PNDs and other specific GNSS applications.

The most common uses of GNSS in phones are road navigation and pedestrian navigation. Often these equipments are used as an handheld outdoor receiver for hiking activities although these devices normally don't have the robustness and autonomy characteristics that are desirable for these activities. With adequate applications GNSS Phones can be used for sport activities providing the same type of functionality available in products like sport watches.

In some cases the navigation applications require the subscription of a service and internet access. Currently cell phone vendors often provide these applications for free although an internet connection is usually required to support navigation. Another option available in the market is through the acquisition of a software package that will include all the functionality and maps installed in the phone device, without the need to pay a subscription fee, unless the user intends to access enhanced data such as weather or traffic information. These applications usually don't require a dependency on a internet connection[2].

GNSS is being embedded not only in cell phone devices, but also in PDAs and tablets that have enough memory and processing resources to hold any kind of navigation software and map features. In terms of navigation capabilities these devices can become as powerful as any dedicated GNSS navigation device.

Most cell phones do not allow the user to directly access the GNSS information. The phones require a network connection and a service plan.[3] Some applications may also have to be purchased from the network provider or any other vendor.

The applications for which GNSS phones are used are considered as non-critical applications.

The accuracy required by these applications is low. The current accuracy provided by civilian GPS is enough for these applications. Availability, however, can be reduced due to urban or forest environments, but it can be improved with the Assisted-GPS technology.

Product Characterization

Route navigation

In order to use smart phones in automobile route navigation, the devices will require large storage capabilities to cope with maps. Modern cell phones are now able to deal with these requirements, due to the lower cost of memory cards and to the constant improvement in processing capabilities.

Some services are able to load maps on request, i.e., the user establishes a communication with a server, which provides the necessary maps. With this approach the devices reduce the amount of memory needed and guarantee up-to-date map data to the user[1].

Another important characteristic provided in some models is the location-aware content functionality, which implies a recognition capability, allowing to get context information about the location and the integration of location information with other phone applications such as calendar, contacts, emails, browser, and messaging.[4]

In terms of service, the smart phones are becoming progressively affordable and attractive, due to the continuous improvements in cost, power consumption and performance, aligned with an improvement in navigation performance, due to a set of technologies incorporated in the device, such as:[5]

  • Assisted-GPS,
  • Magnetic compass,
  • Highly sensitive GNSS chip set,
  • Wi-Fi, cellular and hybrid positioning as back-up,
  • Motion sensors and gyroscopes for tilt,
  • Map matching for road use.

The GNSS functions can also support location services like a mobile locator which can provide a tracking capability. This feature is dependent on the phone equipment, on the network provider and on the chosen service plan. A tracking option available is the geofencing, which is the definition of areas where the tracking mechanism can be activated if the equipment enters or exits the defined area. By consequence, the tracking user can receive an alert email or text message. The real time tracking is another network provider option, which provides the capability for the tracking user to track someone, e.g., an employee or relative, through a website.[3]

Product Examples

There are currently many operating systems with GNSS hardware support, such as Windows Phone 7, Symbian or Android.

Many manufacturers are now producing equipments with GNSS technology enabled. As a result, many cell phones models equipped with GNSS are being sold to the common user, mostly by the following companies:[6]

Many vendors also possess software applications to manage maps, find locations, getting directions, tracking other devices, or any types of navigation. These utilities are allowing to combine several GNSS capabilities, which were distributed among many other devices, embedded into a single personal smartphone.

Among the map providers, there are the global and regional based providers[5]:

Global map providers:

Some of the regional map providers:

Major stores:

  • Apple: App store (more than 200,000 applications)
  • Google: Android market (more than 30,000 applications)
  • Nokia: Ovi Store