GPS + GLONASS – A Reason To Wait Before Buying That New GPS Unit?

PCMAG.com have an interesting article out on the combining of the US GPS system and Russia’s GLONASS system in smartphones.

Silently and invisibly, the 22 satellites of Russia’s GLONASS system partner our GPS, and starting next year smartphones based on Qualcomm chipsets will be able to boost their prowess with GLONASS signals.

“It’s like dual-core location,” said Rob Chandhok, president of Qualcomm Internet Services. “You actually have the system able to look at both satellite constellations at one time and leverage them so … you can get a more accurate fix, or a faster fix.” According to Qualcomm, adding GLONASS improves GPS accuracy in “deep urban environments” by 50 percent.

Qualcomm announced its GLONASS support in May, spurred in part by a new Russian government requirement that phones sold there include GLONASS or pay additional import taxes. But this is a good thing for Americans and especially Canadians: because the satellites target Russian latitudes,  they perform especially well in northern countries.

Obviously this is great news for those who, like me, enjoy caching with their smartphone. It will undoubtedly improve performance in most of the northern hemisphere but it may also provide a platform for smartphones to be taken more seriously in the world of GPS treasure hunting.

Until recently I’d always used my Blackberry for caching and would still fight to the death with anyone who says it’s not as good as a dedicated handheld. As a backup I have an old eTrex but find it generally hopeless. So I decided to join the ranks of ‘real cachers’ recently and purchased an Oregon 450.

But after reading this article I also wonder whether I was a little hasty and should have waited a little longer?

Commercial GLONASS phones are already out in Russia, and Garmin’s new eTrex series of handheld GPS devices already combine GPS and GLONASS in the U.S.

Being in the southern hemisphere the addition of GLONASS was not something on my radar, so I completely missed the inclusion in the new eTrex range. But this addition in the eTrex made we wonder two things…

1. Should we be waiting just a little longer before replacing our GPS units to make sure that they also have GLONASS capabilities? Surely it can’t be long before the majority of those units being released all have it.

2. Why did Garmin release the Montana range of units without GLONASS? The Montana is arguably the new king of the hill for Garmin mapping handhelds so leaving this out is an interesting move. I can only guess that they are testing out the public’s desire to use GLONASS through the eTrex before attempting to introduce it to other lines.

This does all through up some interesting developments for geocaching in the coming years. With the likelihood that GPS units will begin to adopt GLONASS and possibly some of the other satellite navigation systems in development we could be looking at seriously enhanced accuracy. And that makes me wonder whether we might lose some of the fun of geocaching – the “where you are the search engine” part. How much fun would geocaching be if our GPS unit put us on top of the cache time and time again? Or am I just being too much of a stuck in the mud traditionalist?

I guess we will find out, but for now the tech geek in me is super excited about the developments.

*Do you think geocaching would be more or less fun if our GPS units took us exactly to the cache time and time again? Let us know in the comments below.

Hat Tip: GPSTracklog



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  1. Christopher Pope on Facebook

    I would hope its not too accurate! Half the fun and frustration is knowing you are so damn close yet you still have to scramble and dig for it. If you were on top of it each time it would be like having a golf club that let you hit a hole-in-one every time, it would get boring, anyone else think so?

  2. ADV

    I doubt somehow the expected improvement in accuracy will actually put you any closer to the cache. The main factor is the inherent limitation of the three figure decimal degree WGS84 format used, which will not give precision any greater than 1 metre. There are other factors such as continental drift, one example I found, “Over a decade, the WGS84 coordinates of any survey station in Britain change by a quarter of a metre due to this effect”

    I find my Garmin 60CSx puts me “on top of the cache” (i.e. plus or minus 2m) about 90% of the time which I consider to be excellent precision. Surprisingly I found a cache recently about 8m out from my indicated GZ and was grumbling about the co-ordinates being out! Such are my expectations.

    The benefits I think will be quicker acquisition, and more relaible signals under difficult conitions, city canyons, bush etc.

  3. Sheila Taylor Nixon on Facebook

    I think the most important thing to consider with better coords is the benefit to the environment…no more tearing apart everything within 10 m of the cache just to “have some fun” looking.Some cachers do not even use the hint for the same reason…don’t get me started..lol

  4. cfmk^

    The new Apple iPhone 4S also has GLONASS Receiver, so there´s a chance of high accuracy.

  5. craig

    There are way way way to many different factors to consider with GPS accuracy and coordination. I’m a land surveyor and operate 60000$ GPS equipment daily. When we walk them into the bush we are lucky to have 1m accuracy. (Yes they have GLONASS) Therefore I would highly doubt our 600$ phones or 300$ handhelds will ever “walk us right up to the cache”. Perhaps out of some crazy luck every once and a while , but rest assured it’s a flook.

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