Before I get into the nitty gritty details of what GLONASS is, I’d like you guys to know that we use GLONASS in our smartphone’s GPS tech. Actually it’s a little different, but it’s related to GPS in our phones. Just know , the next time you buy a smartphone and you do use GPS , look for GPS + GLONASS and if it’s there you’re good to go. Lets get into the details now.

What is GLONASS?

GLONASS is an acronym for Globalnaya Navigatsionnaya Sputnikovaya Sistema (Russian). Don’t waste time trying pronouncing that like me.

GLONASS is a radio-based satellite navigation system operated by the Russian Aerospace Defence Forces. It both complements and provides an alternative to the United States’ Global Positioning System (GPS) .

GLONASS had 23 operational satellites, enabling full global coverage. Russia launched the GLONASS-M satellite,which is a second generation GLONASS satellite launched on 26th April 2013.

How GPS/GLONASS works

In order to get a fix on your location, your phone needs an unobstructed view to at least four satellites.  Four out of 24  doesn’t sound like a lot, but the satellites are spread around the world and can’t always be accessed where you are. There are 27 satellites actually , but only 24 work at once. The other 3 are back up satellites.

The procedure of how it works is called trilateration.  The first satellite locates you somewhere on a sphere (top left of Figure). The second satellite narrows your location to a circle created by the intersection of the two satellite spheres (top right). The third satellite reduces the choice to two possible points (bottom left). Finally, the forth satellite helps calculate a timing and location correction and selects one of the remaining two points as your position (bottom right).

But now there’s a second network of 23 satellites called GLONASS. Combined access to GPS and GLONASS can improve location accuracy, reliability and speed. Rob Chandhok, president of Qualcomm Internet Services jokingly calls it a “dual-core”  location system.

Navigation with smartphones

GPS and phone baseband chips from major vendors ST-Ericsson, Broadcom and Qualcomm all support GLONASS in combination with GPS. That essentially means all smartphones now will have GLONASS tech. , more so the top end one’s.

This is particularly useful in places where the signal is faint, like cities or forests, where getting more signals can mean the difference between accuracy and wild guess.

 

The accuracy using both gps networks is increased to 2 meters which is extremely accurate in a day to day situation and you can get a faster location fix too.

Moreover, the new generation processors automatically know when to power on the GLONASS service, and when to leave it off. GLONASS only engages when an adequate GPS signal can’t be found. This extends battery life while providing the best navigation experience possible.

The Future:

Whilst most people have heard of GPS, what most don’t realize is it is actually a US-owned satellite technology designed purely for military applications, not for finding your nearest restaurant or quickest route home. As a result, the Russian came out with GLONASS and Europe has spent the last couple of decades designing and developing a counterpart, Galileo, which just this March provided its first positional readings.

Galileo is a global navigation satellite system (GNSS) currently being built by the European Union (EU) and European Space Agency (ESA). The €5 billion project is named after the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei. One of the aims of Galileo is to provide a high-precision positioning system upon which European nations can rely, independently from the Russian GLONASS, US GPS, and Chinese Compass systems, which can be disabled in times of war or conflict.

Full completion of the 30-satellite Galileo system (27 operational and three active spares) is expected by 2019.

For the mobile world, this is definitely a huge step forward in navigation.

P.S. GLONASS is the most expensive program of the Russian Federal Space Agency, consuming a third of its budget in 2010.

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