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Putting GPS in smartphones

October 9, 2020  - By
Greg Turetzky Principal Engineer Intel

Greg Turetzky, vice president of product, oneNav

GNSS has had a major impact on many different industries and market segments, but I believe that the incorporation of GNSS into cell phones has impacted more people around the world than any other. It’s almost hard to remember back in the last millennium when the idea of putting a GPS receiver into a cell phone was first contemplated. Back then, we were just starting the transformation from 1G phones (analog) to 2G phones (digital), and the whole idea of 911 for mobile phones was a huge hurdle facing the entire industry. Three small startups (SiRF, SnapTrack and Global Locate) were all founded with the seemingly impossible dream of putting GPS into every cell phone to provide location information for E911 and other commercial applications. Back in those days, we were trying to convince operators and the FCC that GPS could provide location accuracy better than the 150-meters 67% of the time that the cellular industry was leaning toward with other technologies.

Can you hear me now? A sampling of early cell phones. (Photo: yktr/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

Can you hear me now? A sampling of early cell phones. (Photo: yktr/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

Fortunately for everyone, we were able to convince the industry that GNSS was an answer that should be considered. Today, we see billions of phones around the world with embedded GNSS. Those early phones from Motorola, Nokia, Ericsson and RIM (Blackberry) were truly marvels of engineering development to tightly couple GPS and cellular. Interestingly, none of those phone makers — nor any of those three pioneering companies — exist today, having been subsumed into larger entities due to their success in solving this incredibly complex problem. Those early GPS L1 C/A-only phones have added GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS and BDS, and we are now starting to see support for L5 showing up in smartphones. This has all led to improved availability and accuracy — now not only can we locate E911 calls to the correct civic address for emergency responders, but commercial applications rely on <10-meter accuracy for driving directions, ride sharing and social media applications. Every time I think there is nothing new to do, something always comes along. I’m excited to see what’s next.

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