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WiFi positioning information to be used with caution when GPS satellite constellation signals are unavailable

by gps4us news 2011-11-16 15:11


WiFi should be used with caution in place of GPS for positioningThe GNSS world-wide navigation system provides users with highly accurate, three-dimensional position, velocity and timing information 24 hours a day in all weather conditions. The newest GPSS systems such as GPS IIF system brings next-generation performance to the satellite constellation. In real world there are rare cases when even the most advanced GPS constellation signals could be blocked depending on location of the GPS navigator or GPS enabled mobile personal communicator.  One of the most effective alternatives to check the current location at least in metro areas, where wireless data streams are in the fabric of the big city communication signals, is to collect the WiFi routers broadcast signals which contain their positioning data. 

Some popular personal communicators are utilizing this method to scan the surrounding area and retrieve the names of points of interest such as businesses and restaurants. For example mobile communicators implemented in Android phones will show the points of interest  on the topographic map rendered on the screen. If mapping application such as Google Maps is enabled the mobile user could see names of businesses and other organizations conveniently pointed out on the maps, morphed into the Street View picture. So the WiFi routers' location data is used for navigation when the GPS constellation signals are weak or blocked by obstacles. The smartphone software uses the service set identifier of nearby WiFi access points and routers to determine the location and pinpoint where the mobile user is currently located. The WiFi positioning method has been criticized by European Union, so the devices which use this method are getting the software tuneup feature which will allow to switch the feature off. Additionally the owners of access points and routers can opt out their devices of having their location data collected by mobile communicators capable of detecting the WiFi positioning data.

Technically the opt out tweak is quite simple, to prevent mobile communicators  using your location data is to change the public name of a wireless network and add the "_nomap" suffix at the  end of character alphanumeric key uniquely identifying the particular wireless hotspot. This will prevent mobile assistants and communicators from using the router's positioning information, making it invisible to the smartphone. However the change affects the existing wireless devices, computers and printers connected to the wireless network as they have to learn the new public name of a wireless network to continue operation. The majority of wireless hotspot and routers owners are not technically savvy users, in most cases they do not know what is a network device secure identifier, and much less how to change it. The proposed solution might not be reasonable for everyone as some users do not let broadcast their WiFi devices' network service set identifiers from security standpoint or other reasons . 

Navigational instruments and mapThe methods used to collect WiFi broadcast data which latest Android smartphones and popular positioning and mapping applications provided by Google often employ, recently came under strong critique when it was y discovered that Google's Street View application services were not only taking photos of neighborhoods, but mistakenly collecting street addresses, Wi-Fi router secure identifiers, network addresses, unencrypted passwords and even email addresses. As a quick fix Google put on halt the collection of personal data, but continued to pick up the unique network addresses, broadcast identifiers of wireless devices and physical addresses of Wi-Fi access points and routers. With the latest opt out method  Google is hoping that the "_nomap" tag will be adopted by all other wireless device location providers. Google provided the solution which may not be perfect but it works. Once other location providers will also be able to observe the suggested opt-outs, there is a possibility that over time the "_nomap" suffix string could be adopted universally. As with every change it may not be met with optimism but this approach would definitely help benefit most of users by providing simple and unified opt-out process regardless of location provider. 

Another approach is to use the GPS chipsets and quad helix antennas which could see more than one GPS satellite constellation, the multiple GNSS GPS navigators and receivers. The latest GPS navigators, like the newest Garmin Etrex family which includes the GARMIN eTrex 10,  eTrex 20 and GARMIN eTrex 30, are capable of maintaining more than one GPS international standards including GPS and GLONASS. There are even more advanced GPS constellation positioning receiver chipsets integrated in a small factor design circuit. They employ an embedded radio frequency input processing circuitry which knows how to separate the GPS signals into the GPS, Galileo, QZSS (Quasi-Zenith Satellite System) and Glonass outputs.



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