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Cellphones Privacy Hardware Technology

Super-Accurate GPS Chips Coming To Smartphones In 2018 (ieee.org) 112

schwit1 writes about a new mass-market Broadcom chip designed for the next generation of smartphones: It'll know where you are to within 30 centimeters (11.8 inches), rather than five meters. At least that's the claim chip maker Broadcom is making. It says that some of its next-generation smartphone chips will use new global positioning satellite signals to boost accuracy. In a detailed report on the announcement and how the new signals work, IEEE Spectrum says that the new chips, which are expected to appear in some phones as soon as next year, will also use half the power of today's chips and even work in cities where tower blocks often interfere with existing systems. All told, it sounds like a massive change for those who rely on their phones to find their way.
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Super-Accurate GPS Chips Coming To Smartphones In 2018

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  • And yet another reason to postpone buying a new cellphone. I'll never get rid of my 2012 phone...

    • by Rei ( 128717 )

      I actually want this. Well, actually, I want more info - 30cm lateral resolution is great, but what's the altitude resolution? I'd love to use it for building up 3d landscapes / road / trail data. Altitude resolution on most current GPS devices is lousy.

      • by lordlod ( 458156 )

        Altitude resolution is the same.

        The error window is best considered as a time error window, the signal is +- 10ns. 10ns = 3m (speed of light), a common strong signal resolution. This is +- 3m in any direction, the conversion to lat/long/altitude is done very late is the GPS maths process.

        • by amorsen ( 7485 )

          Altitude resolution is the same.

          Your arguments make sense, but empiric testing shows that you are wrong. Common "Satnav" or phone GPS's are vastly better at getting lateral position right than at getting altitude right.

          • by lordlod ( 458156 )

            You are right, I simplified and missed a few elements because I got spoilt and typically worked with ideal conditions.

            GPS accuracy is impacted by the position of the satellites, if they are all in the same spot you get a shit fix. For a good altitude fix you need some satellites down near the horizon, in a dense urban area (urban canyon) you can't get this and performance will drop substantially.

            Altitude is a tricky beast, as nobody can really agree on what the zero value is. Different models are used

            • by Agripa ( 139780 )

              For a good altitude fix you need some satellites down near the horizon, in a dense urban area (urban canyon) you can't get this and performance will drop substantially.

              For an elevation fix as good as the lateral fix, a satellite on the opposite side of the earth is required which presents practical problems.

        • Re:Progress (Score:5, Informative)

          by vtcodger ( 957785 ) on Saturday September 23, 2017 @09:51AM (#55250277)

          This is +- 3m in any direction

          Good logic, but not quire correct. Yes, horizontal resolution is normally pretty much equal in any direction. Vertical resolution, however, is hampered by a relative dearth of altitude information at low satellite elevation angles and the fact that most satellite observations at any given time will come from satellites at low elevation angles. The latter is a geometry thing. If you're good at (3D) geometry, you can think it through and convince yourself.

          If geometry makes your head hurt, you need probably to find some satellite acquisition tables and observe how little, if any, of the pass time (for almost all cases) has elevation angles above 45 degrees. I looked on line for an example, but couldn't find one in a few minutes of looking. Maybe better search terms ...

          • by Motard ( 1553251 )

            Good logic, but not quire correct.

            Come on, people. I need everything posted here to be quire correct.

    • by MrL0G1C ( 867445 )

      Ditto, I'm not going to buy an expensive new GPS watch now, I'll grab a cheap one until this gets out and matures. Most GPS watches have battery life that is too short for me / the Garmin's start out with enough battery but degrade, 8 hours instead of 20 because the battery monitor bugs out.

  • I had always heard the lower accuracy from gps was a government imposed restriction or limitations of the protocols not a technical one. is that simply an old myth? I know nothing about the tech personally.
    • by no-body ( 127863 )

      I had always heard the lower accuracy from gps was a government imposed restriction or limitations of the protocols not a technical one. is that simply an old myth? I know nothing about the tech personally.

      Seems they use other constant transmitters on ground with known coordinates and then calculate the error from satellites and correct it.

      GPS for survey purposes are very accurate - maybe less than inch (?) and with disturbed satellite signals.

      https://itstillworks.com/diffe... [itstillworks.com]

    • by iamagloworm ( 816661 ) on Saturday September 23, 2017 @02:44AM (#55249211)

      I had always heard the lower accuracy from gps was a government imposed restriction or limitations of the protocols not a technical one. is that simply an old myth? I know nothing about the tech personally.

      What you are talking about was called Selective Availability and it was disabled in 2000 by Clinton's executive order and never used since then. Current GPS precision is limited by ionospheric scattering and reflections of signal from buildings, it is indeed a matter of having enough satellites in sight to filter out outliers, and smart signal processing, to get better precision (while 30cm is probably possible only by also having a decent INS onboard and integrating data for some like, like 10-20 seconds, with sensor fusion with the INS).

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        Japan has deployed satellites to enhance GPS accuracy. They have demonstrated it in vehicles, with one application being a road cleaner that can accurately track the hard shoulder of a road without the need for advanced computer vision. They also demonstrated sat nav that can tell what lane you are in.

        • Yep. The system is called QZSS. But it gets its better than most GPS performance by using an unusual set of orbit configurations that puts a satellite well above the horizon in Japan at most times. That cuts back on multipath signal problems a lot and also reduces dead spots in cities and mountain areas. The system includes a correction signal that sounds sort of like a hybrid of WAAS and Differential GPS. It may also get some performance enhancement by using a unique ground controlled clock technology

      • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Saturday September 23, 2017 @10:50AM (#55250451)
        You can already get sub-meter accuracy in some areas with differential GPS [wikipedia.org]. It uses a reference signal from a fixed ground station to adjust or toss out obviously inaccurate satellite signals.

        And Selective Availability was first turned off in the buildup to the first Gulf War in 1990. GPS was still relatively new and the U.S. military hadn't expected a massive deployment that soon, so didn't have sufficient military grade GPS receivers (IIRC they only had enough to provide one per company or battalion (few hundred soldiers), when ideally they wanted one per squad (few soliders) or vehicle. So they turned off SA [geocache.org] and bought and distributed civilian GPS receivers (which still cost about $1500 apiece then).

        It was turned back on after the war, but GPS users, especially maritime users, had gotten a taste of what its true accuracy was like and didn't want to go back. 100 meter accuracy is only enough to get you in the vicinity of the harbor entrance. 20 meter accuracy is enough to avoid specific rocks and shoals. They lobbied hard to get it turned off, and developed methods to augment GPS with other signals like dGPS. These became commonplace enough by the late 1990s that there was really no point keeping SA on, since dGPS is actually more accurate than GPS without SA.
    • by Extide ( 1002782 ) on Saturday September 23, 2017 @03:03AM (#55249233) Homepage
      So, there are multiple GPS signals. Originally there was a C/A code (on L1), and a P code (on L2). The C/A code is used by civilian receivers, and both codes are used by military receivers for increased precision. There used to be a pseudo random uncertainty added to these codes that required special keys to correct, which only military receivers had. This was called "Selective Availability" and was disabled May 1, 2000. The newer GPS satellites have even more codes which increase accuracy, including some available to civilian receivers.

      So, the military does still have more accurate GPS than civilians, but there is no longer an INTENTIONAL error added to the civilian side. Newer GPS satellites and newer receivers include more and more technology to get more accuracy even on the civilian side, though. Most modern GPS chips support multiple systems, including GLONASS, GNSS, and others which can be combined to increase accuracy. I am not sure how this new Broadcom chip works but it is probably a combination of the newer signals and the combination of multiple systems. GPS on cell phones is typically integrated into the cellular modem itself and can make use of location data from the cellular network to help as well.

      Check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org] and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
    • is that simply an old myth?

      No. It's an old truth. Civilians used to get a degraded signal. In 1996 Clinton declared GPS a dual use technology which ultimately paved the way to the military discontinuing the practice of degrading the signal a few years later.

    • I had always heard the lower accuracy from gps was a government imposed restriction or limitations of the protocols not a technical one. is that simply an old myth?

      It used to be true. [gps.gov] It wasn't a secret, and discontinued in 2000.

    • by lordlod ( 458156 ) on Saturday September 23, 2017 @04:53AM (#55249401)

      The US government accuracy issues were removed ages ago, partly because the military was trying to use civilian devices and the imposed inaccuracies were hurting them more than the enemy, and partly because it is easy to compensate the imposed error by measuring it with a fixed receiver at a known location.

      Current generation mass market GPS receivers use a single frequency band, L1. The current errors are mostly a combination of atmospheric error, the signal is delayed differing amounts in the ionosphere depending on the weather, and errors in the local crystal oscillator of the receiver.

      The GPS satellites have long transmitted multiple signals at different frequencies, L2 is encoded to reserve it for military use. Using two frequencies allows the ionospheric error to be mostly removed as the two frequencies are impacted differently. I understand it has been possible for a while to break the military signal with enough data but in practice that isn't necessary, the shape of the encoded signal can be used to provide enough information to correct for the ionosphere.

      Satellites launched from 2010 have also transmitted a signal on L5, like L2 it is another frequency with all the same benefits but without the military encoding.

      In the past most budget GPS systems have only supported L1 because each frequency requires an independent front end and that is a significant element of the cost. Even survey receivers typically used only L1 and averaged the signal over time to increase the accuracy. The new Broadcom chip has a front end for L1 and L5, in addition to all the other frequencies a mobile phone can receive, allowing the ionospheric errors to be corrected for.

      The errors in the crystal oscillator will continue to be a significant problem, 1ns is pushing the envelope for a non-ovenised crystal, and an ovenised crystal isn't really an option for a cost sensitive mobile device.

    • A minute on google would have answered this for you.

      No. During the 1990s, GPS employed a feature called Selective Availability that intentionally degraded civilian accuracy on a global basis.

      In May 2000, at the direction of President Bill Clinton, the U.S. government ended its use of Selective Availability in order to make GPS more responsive to civil and commercial users worldwide.

      The United States has no intent to ever use Selective Availability again.

      The same page also describes military GPS receivers that use two frequencies vs. civilian GPS receivers using only one.

      Source: http://www.gps.gov/systems/gps... [gps.gov]

    • by blindseer ( 891256 ) <blindseer.earthlink@net> on Saturday September 23, 2017 @05:31AM (#55249469)

      I do know something about the technology and this kind of accuracy has been in the works for a while. The military grade code was supposed to provide accuracy that only the government was supposed to be able to use. It took me about two seconds to figure out that just knowing some basic properties of the signal could provide similar accuracy if someone was willing to throw enough processing at it. Advancement in computer technology has made the processing needed very cheap, light, and small. There is still an advantage to knowing how to decode the military grade signal, it's just that the advantage is very small unless traveling in ways that are generally unique to the military.

      Early NavStar signals had a civilian accessible code which gave a "quick and dirty" navigation and a military grade signal that required the decoding of the first code to be useful. Now the "quick and dirty" code is still there for legacy reasons, then there is a higher accuracy civilian signal, and the hyper accurate (and now independent of the other signals) military coded signal. If one has access to the encryption keys for the military grade NavStar signal then one can get hyper accurate location in real time with minimal processing and few satellites in view.

      What it sounds like these new systems are doing to get their location as accurate as they do is stack NavStar, GLONASS, and Galileo on top of each other, and do some intense processing of those signals. This is impressive accuracy that is comparable to what NavStar provides with the military grade signal alone. Unless a shooting war breaks out this hyper accurate GPS will remain just as good as the military NavStar signal.

      If there is a shooting war then there is the possibility of the US federal government shutting off the civilian signals on NavStar to deny that to the enemy. The remaining military signal would still give some location information to those willing to throw a lot of processing at it but the accuracy would suck without the civilian cleartext signals to work from. It's this possibility (threat?) of the USA turning NavStar off that prompted the European Union to develop their own system, and Russia their own.

    • by ChumpusRex2003 ( 726306 ) on Saturday September 23, 2017 @05:34AM (#55249475)
      It used to be the case that errors were intentionally injected into the "coarse" signal. However, the encrypted "precise" signal (reserved for military use) was left untouched.

      After some minor SNAFUs during the 90s Gulf war, with allies being unable to source an adequate number of military GPS receivers, and needing to fallback on civilian gear, they navy decided to turn off the error injection temporarily during periods of conflict. As this made a nonsense of the deliberate error injection, which was intended to prevent enemies from obtaining the strategic advantage of GPS, the US gov decided to end the error injection, and switched it off permanently in 2001.

      There are technical differences between the "coarse" and "precise" signals, which allow for better accuracy when both can be received and processed together. (The precise signal has a higher "chip rate" which allows its phase to be measured more precisely, and by using 2 frequencies, the signal dispersion in the atmosphere can be directly measured, rather than relying on a general model).

      As multiple other countries/multinational goverments have developed their own GNSS technology, there has been migration of some of this "military grade" technology into the civilian space. There was some major political wrangling in the early 2000s, when the EU announced that their satellite navigation system would offer not just the classic civilian signal, but a free to use upgraded 2nd frequency "intermediate precision" civilian signal (giving most of the benefit of the US military signal), and an encrypted (paid subscription) commercial signal equivalent (equivalent or better performing) than the US military signal.

      However, the political objections from the US dried up, and the newest US GPS satellites now offer similar upgraded free-to-use signals to the EU systems. China has done the same with their latest satellites.

      Although, full roll-out of satellites offering the upgraded signals is not complete, there are now sufficient satellites offering the upgraded free to use signal (known as L5) that receivers with L5 capability can be expected to work out of the box.
    • by Agripa ( 139780 )

      I had always heard the lower accuracy from gps was a government imposed restriction or limitations of the protocols not a technical one. is that simply an old myth? I know nothing about the tech personally.

      There is some truth to that. Originally the coarse acquisition signal was the only one made available for civilian applications and "selective availability" degraded it. Selective availability has been deprecated and new signals made available for civilian applications on different frequencies allowing propagation corrections. These could of course be degraded at any time without impacting military receivers.

  • It has been around for quite a while so, same old, same old.

    Most of the time, army gets to use it first and when they get something better, the technology becomes deprecated so may as well let the public use it. Most advancements in technology for the consumer followed that path.

  • by hcs_$reboot ( 1536101 ) on Saturday September 23, 2017 @03:28AM (#55249277)
    Hidden "caches" are harder to find thanks to current GPS inaccuracy. Next year, new caches will be so easy to find the game will lost interest ...
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I think better coordinates would actually make me more likely to go out Geocaching; I hate taking the time and effort to get there only to be denied by shoddy coordinates or unhelpful descriptions.

      I once found a geocache at an abandoned quarry that was described as being "under a rock". In a quarry full of rocks. If the coords had been less accurate, it'd have been impossible.

      • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

        The higher precision is what vehicle manufacturers for autonomous vehicles want, but they want it even better. Land surveyors would also like the higher precision to accurately map borders.

        • "Land surveyors would also like the higher precision to accurately map borders."

          I've seen claims that with a half hour's worth of GPS data, surveyors can get cm level lat/lon resolution. That should be good enough for almost all surveying applications I would think. But it's hard to see how they can do that.

          • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

            They do use differential GPS and also use the statistics to work for them - the average value is close to the position they are, so the longer you are in one place the larger the number of samples are and you get a good bell curve.

            But with higher precision on the GPS system they can measure faster - instead of 30 minutes it can take 5 and get better data even then.

    • Hidden "caches" are harder to find thanks to current GPS inaccuracy. Next year, new caches will be so easy to find the game will lost interest ...

      Hidden caches are hard to find thanks to bad measurement on the part of the hider, bad hints by the hider, and generally bad choice of locations. Also, the game is not really about tearing your hair out searching for something unfindable; it's about the joy of discovering a new, exciting location. I know there are websites where the last statement would be considered flamebait, but nonetheless that's what attracts vast numbers of people to this hobby: the chance to discover something you didn't know about b

  • All told, it sounds like a massive change for those who rely on their phones to find their way.

    It might help some people who need to navigate in the center of large cities, and lower cost with less power is always nice. But for most people the difference between 5 meters and 1 meter in GPS position hardly qualifies as a "massive change".

    • But for most people the difference between 5 meters and 1 meter in GPS position hardly qualifies as a "massive change".

      For things like vehicle navigation, the difference between knowing you're in the straight-through toll lane vs on an exit ramp (a difference sometimes of just a couple meters) can be very significant.

      • by tomhath ( 637240 )
        I suppose that could happen. Although I always check the signs and if there's a disagreement, the sign takes precedence over gps.
  • You can run but you can't hide.

  • ... the new GPS chipsets will enable compromising millions of the new devices simultaneously via simple buffer overflows sent from orbiting satellites or handheld devices purchased from Alibaba and eBay for only $25 unit cost.
  • It'll know where you are to within 30 centimeters (11.8 inches),

    Interesting. That's how far light travels in 1 nanosecond.

    29.9792458 centimeters or 11.80285267717 inches.

  • Unless things have changed it is US law that forced GPS units to be somewhat inaccurate as the potential to attach such a GPS to a weapon for guidance was perceived as a threat. So I wonder if the US will get such phones. And just why should we need accurate GPS. There are some narrow ocean inlets that are not lighted at night and being off twenty feet can kill you or cause you to sink your boat. Then there is the surveyor expense issue. if you buy land in remote areas getting boundary markers can
  • Now they can track everyones' location with pinpoint accuracy.

    Find the antenna and short it to ground. Then no one will be able to track you.
  • Make it EASIER for (insert your favorite government agency) to find/track you. But...it's for YOUR security!!

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