GLONASS — what is better about GLONASS than GPS?

First of all, Glonass is a space-based satellite navigation system analogous to the GPS but operated by the Russian Aerospace Defense Forces. It is widely considered to be an alternative to the GPS system…

GLONASS introduction

First of all, Glonass is a space-based satellite navigation system analogous to the GPS but operated by the Russian Aerospace Defense Forces. It is widely considered to be an alternative to the GPS system — Global positioning system released for public use by the American Army. In spite of the now obvious redundancy, the Glonass system was created as an alternative to the American GPS system. Surprisingly we are now able to benefit more from cooperative work based on those two systems simultaneously rather than just one of them. Basically, Glonass is no different than GPS when it comes to features, global coverage and also precision. The Glonass development process began in the the Soviet Union in 1976, and it was restored and finished in the early 2000s under Vladimir Putin’s presidency when it became a top government priority. The Glonass restoration program was one of the biggest in the Russian Federal Space Agency and by 2010 Glonass had achieved full — 100% coverage of Russia’s territory and also a full orbital constellation of 24 satellites thus enabling global coverage.

GLONASS System Design

Generally the GLONASS system uses a satellite constellation to provide a GLONASS receiver with between six and twelve satellites at most times, exactly like in the GPS system. A minimum of four satellites within view are required to allow the system to compute the receiver’s position in three dimensions and synchronize the receiver to the system time. There are three parts that GLONASS system consists of:

1. Control segment — This segment monitors the satellites’ status, determines the ephemerides (the locations of various celestial bodies used for navigation) and the satellite clock offsets according to GLONASS and UTC time.

2. Space segment — This is the part of GLONASS system located in space; that is — the satellites. The segment consists three orbital planes with eight satellites per plane which gives a total of 24 satellites. In comparison, the GPS systems consists of six orbital planes with a minimum of three satellites per plane and 28–31 satellites constantly working.

3. User segment — This is the equipment that allows tracking and receiving of the satellites’ signals. This part of GLONASS / GPS systems depends on the users need and available technology.

GPS core info

GPS was the first system released to the masses and available for everyday users. Now it is commonly implemented in electronics and it is a bit cheaper compared to individual GLONASS receivers, thanks to the popularity of the the GPS system. The truth is that Glonass hasn’t been very widely installed in tracking devices or fleet management systems which are available globally, in spite of the numerous transport companies that use some kind of fleet management system and probably have transport in Russia. Trackers operating only on GPS system work very well in Russian territory, but as elsewhere there are of course blind GPS spots. Having (supplemental) GLONASS receivers resolves this issue in Russian territory and allows for 100 percent coverage. The latest changes in Russian commercial and import law regulate the importation of electronic devices, so from now on every electronic device to be sold in Russia that allows positioning must operate on GLONASS. The consequence might be clear, most old types of trackers offered and operating on Russian territory must be exchanged or improved with a GLONASS receiver.

In spite of the fact that there are 31 GPS satellites and 24 GLONASS satellites in orbit and both systems have full independent global coverage, there are still many dead spots where accurate positioning is not possible. Private users’ and companies’ demands have dramatically increased in recent years, now requirements for electronics features and quality is really high. Currently there is more than one type of tracker — GPS receivers — commonly used GPS driving navigation made users believe that other types of trackers would show the position exactly the same detailed way. Personal GPS trackers which were made to operate apart from auto routes or sidewalks can’t use route maps. Usually it’s software that eliminates bugs in positioning and inaccurate locations. If the software does not include road maps in the system the location sent from the receiver might be difficult to understand and incorrect if the connection conditions are poor. Generally, the more satellites that are visible to the receiver and the less noise around the receiver such as trees, buildings etc. the more precisely the location is calculated. Sending more GPS or only GLONASS satellites to allow for better positioning would definitely improve the precision but the investment is rather long term and might in fact be unprofitable form the very beginning. The solution for this is cooperation of both systems — GPS and Glonass in unison. So, the market for electronic components offers GPS and GLONASS combined receivers to be installed in the hardware which vastly improves positioning.

Since the importance of fleet management and transport tracking has increased Glonass has also become more attractive for logistics companies. The market has changed, as well as it’s needs so there was no more place for imprecise localization and unreliable GPS tracking systems in this particular niche. Each electronic device that allows localization services and is about to be offered on the Russian market are obligated to cooperate with Glonass system and should be equipped with Glonass receivers.

Trackers equipped with both GPS and GLONASS receivers may offer the users the best quality in positioning; a position which is based on information from 48+ satellites! Not only that, it gives 100% coverage in Russian territory and offers similar precision in other parts of Asia and Europe.

GLONASS in addition to GPS provides significant advantages like: increased satellite signal observations, better spatial distribution of visible satellites, reduced DOP factors — Horizontal and Vertical Dilution of Precision, faster RTK results — decreased occupation times which means getting the location fix faster.

In order to determine a position, traditional GPS receivers needed to track at least four satellites. In combination with GLONASS the required minimum of tracked satellites is five, just one additional GLONASS satellite. With all the potentially available GPS and GLONASS satellites positioning performance in urban canyons and other locations with restricted visibility, such as forested areas improves, as more satellites are visible in the non-blocked portions of the sky.

GLONASS receiver in mass-market consumer products

Every geek probably knows that recently released Smart-phones have installed GPS and GLONASS systems. For those of us who may have recently been living under a rock: Apple started inputting GLONASS beginning with the iPhone 4s. The same applies to Samsung Smart-phones, HTC, Huawei, Motorola, Nokia, Sony, Sony Ericsson etc. A large list of these brands’ phone models already support Glonass. What’s strange in the case of GLONASS is that fleet management companies and their tracker suppliers have not invested in this product improvement.

There are just a few fleet management companies that offer trackers with GLONASS in their system, nevertheless most of these trackers are imported and made for the mass-market, not dedicated to a specific group or company as it should be.

Mass-produced Chinese GPS + GLONASS trackers are made with poor quality components, are bulky and mostly dedicated for inside car installation only. The same trackers might be offered by more than just one fleet management company, so there is almost no difference in these companies’ fleet management offers. In any case, the same issues and problems with trackers may occur and the most important thing is that the particular company has no impact on the trackers themselves nor on how they actually work.

I have found a pretty impressive number of mass-produced GPS + GLONASS trackers, each are widely used in fleet management systems and companies. Most of them are produced in China or Germany and rely on permanent installation somewhere within the vehicle.

Fleet GPS Tracker + GLONASS support T3 by Meitrack’s

T3 includes GPS and GLONASS tracking functions, at least the list of functions mentioned in the product description is incredible long. Let’s point out the most important ones:

Available GPS and GSM tracking, means that the positioning is also based on cellular positioning data to improve precision. Tracking by SMS; when sent, the trackers sends back the link with the actual position. Tracking on demand — must be initiated to receive the object location. Tracking in time or distance interval, useful and detailed, but might be expensive. The usage of data transfer increases 300 or 400%. Of course you will find also motion and acceleration sensors, Geo-fence alarm, low battery, SOS, speeding, tow alarms and more. As you can see it does everything but my experience says that just ⅓ of the features will ever be used, the rest are useless or non-functional.

STEPP III / TFOX-LT

The most important details about this tracker are that it is one of the smallest on the market, has low power consumption, and is equipped with GPS, GLONASS and Galileo satellites receivers. Embedded software allows it to initiate transfer alarm messages, additionally various sensors like voice announcement, movement detection sensors, distress buttons and others may be optionally installed.

GS — TRAQ with GPS & GLONASS

Supports Glonass, GPS, Galileo and Compass satellites systems. Allows working up to 24 hours, equipped with sensitive GPS chipset SiRF star — III and dual-standard NV08C module of Navis, movement — detecting sensor, Geo-fence system, signaling about excessive speeds, antenna disconnection, ignition, shutting down or low battery.

Aplicom and A5 GLX

A5 GLX GPS + GLONASS trackers, it is a heavy duty telematics unit that may be integrated with most professional fleet management applications. All its features can be configured giving the flexibility to fit various customers needs. Available configuration tools provide wireless modification and configuration. The A5 GLX GLONASS tracker is available and integrated with fleet management systems operating globally like: GpsGate, Helpten, Sledenje, T.U.C.S. (We’ll be described in the next article).

Car Beacon— GLONASS + GPS receiver

It can not be overlooked that Cloud Your Car’s Car Beacon also supports GLONASS and GPS giving the user precision in localization and a short waiting time when getting the satellite fix. The advantage of the Car Beacon and app is that the hardware is strictly dedicated for the software we develop, so full control, cooperation and responsibility is provided for the user like in no other fleet management system that uses mass-produced, generic GPS + GLONASS trackers.

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