GSA, mobile industry leaders explore the future of location at infoShare 2017

06 June 2017
Justyna Redelkiewicz (GSA), Kamil Grondys (Samsung), Manuel del Castillo (Broadcom), and Ed Parsons (Google) discuss the future of GNSS-based smartphone applications.

The GSA chaired a unique session at this year's infoShare in Gdansk, focusing on the importance of accurate and verifiable positioning for tomorrow's smartphone apps, and getting the views of some key industry leaders.

The infoShare 2017 session on 'Why Accuracy Matters' began with the GSA's Justyna Redelkiewicz asking conference attendees to consider how they choose their smartphones. "For the majority of consumers," she said, "the key features are: design, size of display, and camera quality. We are here to convince mobile developers and users that the GNSS capabilities of consumer devices should be equally important."

GNSS is currently considered a commodity inside a smartphone, a technology that is a few decades old with little room for innovation. Although 50% of applications available in app stores use location information, for most of them (check-in on Facebook, car navigation, search for nearby restaurant, ordering a taxi) the location accuracy of around ten meters that is currently offered is good enough.

However, it is not good enough for the applications of the future: the Internet of Things, autonomous cars, drones, personal robots, etc. The technology providers know this and there is already a silent revolution happening inside smartphones: super powerful chipsets that can process data from several GNSS systems at the same time for better accuracy, and location data from various technologies (GNSS, wi-fi, sensors) integrated seamlessly into one device. Operating system providers are making the necessary changes to make these innovations available to application developers and users.

“Now it is time for mobile developers to get inspired and make business around these innovations”, Redelkiewicz said, “we have invited representatives from the global chipset industry (Broadcom), handset providers (Samsung) and OS providers (Android) to confirm that they are ready to empower their IT apps with a new level of location accuracy.”

Read this: The shift towards a multi-constellation environment

The view from industry

Broadcom is a leader in GNSS chipset technologies, present in the latest top-of-the-line phones. It was one of the first to introduce a multi-constellation chipset and now it is the first to bring dual frequency to the market.

Broadcom's Associate Director for GNSS Marketing Manuel del Castillo told the infoShare audience, "We initially supported GPS and then eventually supported all of the GNSS constellations – Glonass, Beidou and Galileo." The company is now working with a number of handset vendors, and Samsung in particular, to bring its new multi-constellational and multi-frequency chipset to your next smartphone.

"We are also supporting another innovation of Google, that is the hosting of specific location applications in our chip," del Castillo said. "Take one example: activity recognition is a Google application that makes use of sensors and lets the application know what the user is doing, if you're walking, biking, driving, whatever. Now, that application can run either in the applications processor of the phone, which uses generally quite a bit of power, or it can be pushed down to a low-power processor in the GNSS chip."

Broadcom is also very interested in a new authentication feature being introduced by Galileo, which will allow users to check and verify that a navigation signal is really coming from a satellite and not from someone trying to 'spoof' their location. "We are absolutely convinced of the need to authenticate your location," del Castillo said, "especially when this is related to applications that involve payments, like road user charging or parking fees based on your location."

Direct to developers

Last year, Google revolutionised the GNSS world by bringing not only final location coordinates but also raw satellite data directly to application developers through the latest Android operating system.

Speaking at infoShare, Google Geospatial Technologist Ed Parsons asked, "Why shouldn't people have access to this, in many ways more complex, signal? In so many applications, a much more precise location is going to be very valuable."

Parsons argued that while you won't necessarily need all that accuracy to find the nearest café, there are many location-related applications out there that traditionally have had to rely on very expensive technologies: "In terms of surveying, construction, precision-agriculture, they've had to use very complex, very expensive instruments. There is now this emerging capability, by using the raw GNSS signal to give you that same centimetre-precise location on a smartphone. "I think there are many opportunities, if there are investors in the audience looking towards investing in a developing space, this would be it."

Speaking on behalf of device manufacturers, Samsung Senior Solution Architect Kamil Grondys talked about the new possibilities opened up by very accurate positioning: "There are so many scenarios, especially for application developers, and the smartphone is just the beginning."

Indeed, Grondys witnessed for himself some rapid and on-the-spot application development at the Galileo Hackathon in nearby Gydnia, where he served as an expert advisor/coach and member of the jury.

"The energy at the Hackathon was very high," Grondys said, "there was excitement about using the new raw Galileo signals, the participants were really keen to get their hands on and try to work with this new resource. The ideas were not only from the business perspective but also about how to help people, how to make use of a new technology to make the world a better place."

Also read: Hackathon 2017 expands Galileo community

One thing everyone at the special GSA session agreed on is that location is being used in an ever-increasing range of applications, and as the devices become more precise, more reliable and more secure, we will continue to see new markets emerging in areas that we probably haven't even thought about.

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Updated: Jun 06, 2017