Farewell to the Golden Age of GPS

October 24, 2018  - By

One remark in particular caught my eye as I read the press release précis of the European GNSS Agency’s 2018 GNSS User Technology Report. In point, “Today only around 30 percent of receivers use GPS only.”

“What?!?” methought. Incredulously, I downloaded the 92-page document, so easily done at www.gsa.europa.eu, and scrutinized it closely. Surely the GPS-only installed base out there is wider, vaster and deeper (it’s certainly older!) than could have been overtaken already by the wave of multi-constellation devices.

Yes, they are clearly the future. But is the past already gone? That golden age when GPS was all that anyone lived, positioned and navigated by — vanished into the mist?

Only earlier this very year was I upgraded from an iPhone 3 to an 8, with Galileo onboard for the first time. “Hip, but by the skin of my teeth,” I breathed.

Chart: GSA report

Chart: GSA report

In the fine print on page 20 of the report lay clarification for my consternation. “For the analysis, each device is weighted equally, regardless of whether it is a chipset or receiver and no matter what its sales volume is. The results should therefore be interpreted as the split of constellation support in manufacturers’ offerings, rather than what is in use by end users.”

Of the roughly 500 chipsets and modules tallied by the GSA, 30 percent of those models are GPS-only. That’s a number of quite a different color. See the chart for fuller information.

Better minds than this can take a stab at how many devices in the hands end users on this day are still GPS-only. I’d put it above 50 percent.

The writing’s on the wall for the GPS-only artifact, but a good many of those veterans are still out there, working hard in the marketplace. Their reign as the majority may be limited, especially with the rising global tide of multi-constellation smartphones, but let’s honor them one last time before consigning them to the museum.

The GSA’s report, by the way, is a remarkably good and valuable read. No one can know it all, but this slim volume packs a remarkable and essential density of key facts, trends, issues, markets and more.

About the Author: Alan Cameron

Alan Cameron is the former editor-at-large of GPS World magazine.