GNSS: Subtle Improvements

Section by Brian Klug

Like the iPhone 4S and the iPhone 4 CDMA before it, Apple has gone with the GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) leveraging both GPS and Russian GLONASS which lives entirely on the Qualcomm baseband. In the case of the iPhone 4S and 4 CDMA, that was onboard MDM6610 and MDM6600 respectively, both of which implemented Qualcomm’s gpsOneGen 8 with GLONASS tier. Going to on-baseband GNSS is really the way of the future, and partially the reason why so many of the WLAN, BT, and FM combos don’t include any GNSS themselves (those partners know it as well). In this scheme GNSS simply uses a dedicated port on the transceiver for downconversion, additional filtering (on RTR8600), and then processing on the baseband. The advantage of doing it all here is that often it eliminates the need for another dedicated antenna for GNSS, and also all of the assist and seed information traditionally needed to speed up getting a GPS fix already exists basically for free on the baseband. We’re talking about both a basic location seed, precision clock data, in addition to ephemeris. In effect with all this already existing on the baseband, every GPS start is like a hot start.

There was a considerable bump in both tracking accuracy and time to an assisted GPS fix from the iPhone 4 which used a monolithic GPS receiver to the 4 CDMA and 4S MDM66x0 solution. I made a video last time showing just how dramatic that difference is even in filtered applications like Maps.app. GLONASS isn’t used all the time, but rather when GPS SNR is either low or the accuracy of the resulting fix is poor, or during initial lock.

With MDM9615 now being the baseband inside iPhone 5, not a whole lot changes when it comes to GNSS. MDM9615 implements gpsOneGen 8A instead of just 8, and I dug around to figure out what all has changed in this version. In version 8A Qualcomm has lowered power consumption and increased LTE coexistence with GPS and GLONASS, but otherwise functionality remains the same. MDM9x25 will bring about gpsOneGen 8B with GLONASS, but there aren’t any details about what changes in that particular bump.

I spent a lot of time playing with the iPhone 5 GNSS to make sure there aren’t any issues, and although iOS doesn’t expose direct NMEA data, things look to be implemented perfectly. Getting good location data is now even more important given Apple’s first party turn by turn maps solution. Thankfully fix times are fast, and getting a good fix even indoors with just a roof between you and clear sky is still totally possible.

Cellular Connectivity: LTE with MDM9615 WiFi: 2.4 and 5 GHz with BCM4334
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  • dado023 - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    These days for me is battery life and then screen usability, so my next buy will be 720p, with iPhone5 setting the bar, i hope other android makers will follow. Reply
  • Krysto - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    Are you implying iPhone 5 is setting the bar for 720p displays? Because first of all, it doesn't have an 1280x720 resolution, but a 1136x640 one, and second, Android devices have been sporting 720p displays since a year ago. Reply
  • hapkiman - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    I have an iPhone 5 and my wife has a Samsung Galaxy S III.

    Her Galaxy S III has a Super AMOLED 1280x720 display.

    And yes my iPhone 5 "only" has a 1136 x 640 display.

    But guess what - I'm holding both phones side by side right now looking at the exact same game and there is no perceivable difference. I looked at it, my son looked at it, and my wife looked at it. On about five or six different games, videos, apps, and a few photos. The difference is academic. You cant tell a difference unless you have a bionic eye.

    They both look freakin' fantastic.
    Reply
  • reuthermonkey1 - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    I think you're missing Krysto's point. Of course looking at a 4" 1136 x 640 and a 4.8" 1280x720 display side by side will look equivalent to the eye. But his response wasn't to whether they're similar, but to the minimum requirement dado023 has set for their next purchase to be 720p.

    The iPhone5's screen looks fantastic, but it's not 720p, so it's not exactly setting the bar for 720p.
    Reply
  • Samus - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    I'm no Apple fan, but in their defense, it is completely unneccessary to have 720p resolution on a 4" screen.

    The ppi of the screen is already 20% higher than is discernible by the human eye. Having the resolution any higher would be a waste of processing power.
    Reply
  • afkrotch - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    More screen real estate. Higher resolution, more crap you can throw on it. Course ih a 4" or 4.8" display, how many icons can you really place on the screen. I have a 4" screen and I wished I could shrink my icons though. Would love to get more icons on there.

    I can't do large phones anymore. I had a 5" Dell Streak...no thanks. Too big.
    Reply
  • rarson - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    "The ppi of the screen is already 20% higher than is discernible by the human eye."

    Uh, no it's not. The resolution of a human retina is higher than 326 ppi.
    Reply
  • Silma - Thursday, October 18, 2012 - link

    This doesn't mean anything. It depends on how far away the reading material is from the eye.

    720p may not be needed for such a small screen but it is better than "not exactly" 720p in that the phone doesn't have to rescale 720p material.

    In the same way retina marketing for macbook is pure BS as for the screen size and eye distance from the screen such a high resolution is not needed and will only burn batteries faster and make laptops warmer for next to no visual benefit. In addition 1080p materials will have to be rescaled.
    Reply
  • rarson - Thursday, October 18, 2012 - link

    Right, so if you have good vision, like I do, then at a foot away, you can see those pixels. Reply
  • MobiusStrip - Friday, October 19, 2012 - link

    Yawn. Reply

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