Garmin SatIQ on Multiband GNSS – What is it? Is It Good and Do I need it?

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Is Garmin Fenix Epix Accurate GPS GNSS Dual Band What isWhat Is Garmin SatIQ Multiband GNSS

If ever there were a lot of techy acronyms that needed explaining, that title had plenty, so I’ll explain them as straightforwardly as possible.

Garmin SatIQ TL;DR: Automatically enable/disable the high accuracy mode on high-end Garmin devices.

What Problem Are We Trying To Solve Here

Garmin’s latest Airoha (MediaTek) chipsets are some of the most accurate I’ve ever used in both the regular mode and high-accuracy mode. However, the highest accuracy comes with a cost of significantly increased battery consumption. It’s perhaps not the hugest of problems as battery consumption is still more than acceptable even in high accuracy mode.

What Is GNSS?

Most people say GPS but really mean GNSS. GNSS stands for Global Navigation Satellite System. It’s the generic term for satellite-based navigation systems.

When smartphones, sports watches or bike computers determine your position they measure the distances from several satellites. By using ephemerides data, the whole system knows the position and trajectory of all satellites, so your position can be trilaterated (multilaterated) by your piece of tech to give either a 2D position or 2D position+elevation (3D).

The satellites were launched by several countries and are managed by the same countries in groups, or constellations. The constellations with a global reach are these

  • GPS – the USA’s Global Positioning System
  • Galileo – The EU’s system
  • GLONASS – Russia’s system
  • Beidou – China’s system

Then there are the regional constellations QZSS and IRNSS from Japan and India respectively.

Garmin’s original sports watches have always relied on electronic chips from 3rd party manufacturers like MediaTek and Sony. Over time these chips have become progressively more competent by adding GLONASS, Galileo and Beidou compatibility to the original GPS-only capabilities.

Broadly speaking, more satellites can either mean more accuracy or an increased chance of achieving the stated level of accuracy. However working with more satellites typically also requires more battery power and until 2021 the main driver for most tech seemed to be to boost the battery life of devices, seemingly at any cost…including the cost of accuracy.

Today, the latest Garmin devices have a GPS-only mode as well as an All Systems mode. For most of us, All Systems means GPS+GLONASS+Galileo+Beidou.

Garmin Edge 1040 Review multi band gnss constellation

What Is Multiband GNSS?

It gets more complex.

Many satellites emit 2 or more signals at different wavelengths/frequencies/bands. Only very recently has Garmin (and Coros) been able to use GNSS chips that receive two of those bands (called L1 & L5)

Each band should report the same distance from the Garmin to the satellite but often will not due to refraction in the air, reflection from buildings and trees or other reasons.

The key thing to remember here, in terms of SatIQ, is that newer, more powerful Garmins have spare power to be able to determine a degree of confidence in the accuracy of the signal from each satellite based on the discrepancy between the distances reported by the two bands.

gnss satellite gps
Image|faa.gov

SatIQ

Finally, we come to SatIQ.

Now, SatIW doesn’t know if you are running in a forest or through an urban canyon of skyscrapers. All it knows is the degree of confidence in the accuracy received from each satellite.

Garmin’s SatIQ algorithms have a trigger point when overall accuracy falls to a certain level. At this point, SatIQ automatically enables/disables the Multiband mode as appropriate.

SatIQ will result in a level of battery consumption somewhere between the highest and lowest possible on your device (!) determined by the environmental conditions. Most of us will not need Multiband most of the time thus using SatIQ should be a bit of a no-brainer.

What Garmin Devices Will Get SatIQ?

The Garmin Epix 2, Edge 1040 and Forerunner 955 will get this as will the Fenix 7 Sapphire-only models.

How to Enable SatIQ

At the time of writing (5Jul2022), you had to have the latest beta/alpha firmware.

  1. Press START/STOP to view the activity list.
  2. Select a supported activity sport profile.
  3. Press UP/MENU to access the menu.
  4. Select the activity settings.
  5. Select Satellites.
  6. Select AutoSelect.

 

You should already have these options

  • GPS only
  • All systems
  • All + multiband
  • Auto-selection
  • UltraTrac

 

Opinion

On the face of it, this is a good feature. If I can use GPS-only mode 95% of the time and only the All System Multiband mode from SatIQ for the other 5%, I’ll be happy. At least I’ll be happy if the feature correctly enables/disables itself in a timely fashion without gobbling battery. And I’ll be delighted if it records the GNSS mode in the FIT file.

Rarely Asked Questions

Q: What is GPS 3 and should I care?

A: The next iteration of America’s GPS, I wouldn’t worry too much about it.

What is GPS 3? GPS III vs GALILEO and GLONASS – which is best?

Q: What Is GLONASS and is it better than GPS?

A: It’s Russia’s version of GPS and it’s not quite as good as America’s GPS although that observation misses the point.

 

What is GLONASS? GPS vs GLONASS – which is best. Used by Garmin, Apple, Suunto, Samsung and others

Q: Don’t Garmin use Sony GNSS Chips?

A: Yes they still do but Garmin appears to be transitioning en masse to Airoha (MediaTek)

more accurate Sony GNSS/GPS Chip for Garmin sports wearables

Q: Galileo, is it rubbish?

A: That’s a bit harsh, especially after the EU has spent billions on it. No, it’s not rubbish it’s just their version of the USA’s GPS.

GALILEO – Is it Rubbish?

 

Q: Has any other manufacturer implemented multiband GNSS

A: Yes, Coros has and Apple might have.

Google next to implement dual-band Galileo or GPS

 

Q: Will I lose sleep tonight if I don’t correctly understand the key xDOP accuracy components of GPS?

A: Maybe, take a sleeping tablet or read this, just in case…

 

GPS Accuracy Explained – VDOP TDOP GDOP HDOP PDOP

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9 thoughts on “Garmin SatIQ on Multiband GNSS – What is it? Is It Good and Do I need it?

  1. Err…there are no “distance readings”, GNSS works by using the time that a signal takes to go from the transmitter to the receiver 😉

    1. Since we we are taking about the speed of light, time taken for the radio signal to travel from the transmitter to receiver is equivalent to distance. It triangulates your position from the position of multiple satellites.

      The whole thing is amazing really.

      1. Actually when it receives the signal the receiver compares its internal clock with the time at which the signal was sent, hence the need for super accurate clocks (atomic in the satellites) and then using the ephemeris data (orbits of the satellites) can calculate a position. 3 or more satellites are needed for triangulation to work of course. Point was it’s not a “distance reading” but a “time reading” initially. Seemed important to clarify in an article that goes into some technicalities about GNSS, better get the basics right 😉

      2. i’ll add some semantic corrections eg it trilaterates rather than triangulates. Even that word is wrong and is more correct as “multilaterates” in this scenario. I’ve also added the correct plural of ephemeris.

        This is getting a little bit more technical than my original intention but never mind!

  2. This is a somewhat tangential question, but this very informative article suggests this is a good place to pose it. 5K, you preface the article by explaining this how smartphones, wearables, bike computers obtain GNSS. But I’ve always wondered how a car’s GNSS is so much more capable, i.e it performs practically flawlessly in urban settings among buildings, tunnels, where a wearable struggles. Is it more battery power, or just different tech? Thanks for any information.

    1. hi
      i’m not sure i agree with what you say. when i drive in London my car’s satnav is poor.
      the answer to your question would otherwise be aerial design and the fact that driving in the middle of a lane is better than running on a pavement ie less proximity to buildings. a swinging arm also makes it harder for a runner’s gps.

    2. Car navigation probably is using some sort of “snap to road”, it’s difficult to be so far off that it thinks you are on a different road (still happens though). Also cars usually only move forward, in case of doubt it just assumes you are keeping to the same road. Now if the GNSS had to figure out in what lane you were driving, that would be much harder to guess.

      1. All valid points. Key thing in a car is power and board-space are “relatively” unlimited. A GPS puck in a car is typically a 1-2″ lump (containing inside it the antenna)… if you compare that to your watch, the GPS antenna module alone for a car GPS would be larger than the entire watch (leaving no room for watchy-things).
        Then, the electronics themselves go onto the main board (inside the car computer/radio/wherever your particular unit resides)… it has “limitless” power (needs only a couple of volts and 100ma or less even for “full power” chipsets nowadays)… but that much power in a watch, would kill your battery quickly (watch batteries are typically in the 250-450mah capacity, thus a GPS chipset using 100ma of current, would kill your watch in 3-4 hours generally speaking (not good for that 4+ hour sporting event)…
        The mobile chipsets run much lower power, by processing at lower frequencies, reducing “feature sets” on the chips, etc. This gets them down into the 20mA draw ranges that are common today, but you do lose “power”. The SirfStar series that Polar (and MediaTek was similar) used in their watches 5 years ago, ran at around 50mA draw… but processed something like 56 channels of data simultaneously PLUS 8 additional processing channels dedicated to nothing but “anti-jamming/anti-interference” processing (sounds woo-woo, but ultimately, it helps in noisy (building reflections, trees, etc) environments just as much as it’s intended military origins). Meaning it was running 64 processing channels simultaneously… and it did this at a standard internal rate of 10hz (outputting back to 1hz in watch implementations, although the features for 10hz output were in the chip itself). That chipset was more accurate than any GPS I’ve seen, literally if I stepped around the back fender of a car blocking part of hte sidewalk, I could see the deviation, and if i stepped off a curb, it’d show the elevation shift where I stepped own then back on a few steps later. These chipsets were derived from military grade parts, “downleveled” to consumer parts (and in fact are still in heavy use in automotive usage, where again the power draw didn’t matter).
        Compare this to the Sony GPS sets used the past few years… finding much detailed doucmentation on them has been very difficult, but based on what I’ve found, the first gen used in multiple watches, was processing 28 channels (for reference, a channel can be processing data streams in different fashions) and I never found any mention of dedicated rejection/anti-jamming/anti-noise channels, indicating that that is probably handled in software using some of the 28 channels it had to start with, thus leaving less for signal processing of the actual locations from “good” signals. Also, it’s a strictly 1hz part, so basically in that 1 second, it’s using all it’s power to get one decent signal location…. compared the Sirf (or MT higher-end sets I believe) which in the course of 1 second, has now collected a set of 10 calculations to average out to best determine the final “1 second” output location coordinates.
        Hopefully that explains some of why watches aren’t as good as cars on GPS, as well as why most “newer” watches actually seem worse at GPS than 5 year old models (because they are, but you’ve got 20 hours GPS now instead of 8, it was a conscious tradeoff that marketing “twice the battery life” is sexier than “1m vs 5m accuracy” would ever be. (And to the majority of the buying population, that’s a very correct statement, if their track is close enough to see what road or trail they are on in general, many casual users will be completely satisfied).
        There are tons more things involved, but that’s a “simple” breakdown of some of hte major criteria… antenna design (and size) is CRUCIAL… and then the tradeoff between power (feature/capabilities0 vs power (battery) is the next one. And “board space” is obviously a massive problem for watch implementations. Thus, a car (or other “large portable” device SHOULD be better, if it’s not, then it’s a really bad implementation.

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