Garmin Talks About GPS Accuracy
I’d missed this article from Garmin last week where one of their engineers talks about GPS accuracy improvements. Whether or not this post from Garmin is simply an explainer for the introduction of GPS-L5 in a handset model in Q4.2020 or whether it also foreshadows more exciting improvements remains to be seen.
Followers of the GNSS/GPS accuracy threads on this site will find little new at that first link but the fact that Garmin is now talking publicly about the L5 frequency is great. Surely if a ‘new’ GPS frequency warrants a monthly Garmin blog post then it’s important, right?
A quick recap
- Signals are broadcast from GPS, BeiDou and Galileo over 3 frequencies. Historically our GNSS chips have only used one of those frequencies – called L1. L2 can’t be used but the third frequency, L5, can be used….but hasn’t been used.
- Sony released two new GNSS chips, similar to the ones Garmin and the rest of the sports industry has used for the last couple of years. The new chip offers simultaneous compatibility with L1 and L5, although that compatibility comes at a slight cost…requiring slightly more power.
- These different frequencies are refracted differently in the atmosphere and, reflect off buildings differently too following the simple principles you were taught in high school physics. Thus L5 can be used to correct L1. Result = more accurate GNSS positioning.
- Garmin has already used this new Sony chip in one of its handheld models, released in Q4.2020. These are designed for hiking and it’s not clear if chips will also bring improvements to running. I think they will.
- The two frequencies can also be used to determine the confidence in the positional reading. I’m reasonably sure that confidence can be used algorithmically to discard or de-weight the importance of low-confidence signals, again improving performance.
It is highly likely that the new generation of chips will be found on the Fenix 7 release over the summer/Q3.2021 and it’s also likely that they will be tested out first on a running device before being trusted in Garmin’s most important product range. The new chips were not in the Garmin Enduro, so we can expect them SOON in a Forerunner or Edge ie very soon 😉
Shall We Get Excited
Well, there’s going to be a hit on battery life and a new chip may well bring new teething problems and new quirks for Garmin & Sony to sort out.
Possibly, the new chips may deliver improvements only at slower speeds like with hiking and not for higher speed sports like running/cycling, hopefully not.
That said, I think we should get a little bit excited and that we can hope for some modest and occasional improvements in the GPS tracks we love and the instant pace displayed to runners.