The Role of Simulation in the Integration of GNSS Receivers
Find out how to choose the most cost-effective receiver and how to integrate that receiver into your end equipment.
The Role of Simulation
in the Integration
of GNSS Receivers
Adding Location Awareness
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Whether for security reasons in
tracking valuable assets or simply to
enhance the social networking
experience by highlighting the
geographical location of a user's
contacts, GNSS receivers can be
used to add these facilities to a huge
range of products at relatively little
...in terms of hardware
has become one of
features for all
manner of equipment
in both the
However for many organisations
GNSS technology is real rocket
science. With no experience in the
field, they find themselves facing
two fundamental problems:
How to choose the most
cost-effective receiver for
the task in hand...
...and how to integrate that receiver into the end
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Making the choice
In choosing the receiver, there are immediately two options that can be taken:
a ready made receiver sub-assembly that can be simply "slotted in"
to the equipment or a lower cost chipset that will require considerably more
engineering effort, together with carefully chosen peripheral components.
And while the sub-assembly option has many advantages in terms of simplifying
the engineering involved, manufacturers in high-volume consumer markets are
always under pressure to reduce costs to a minimum. And that will dictate the
use of component-level designs.
Benchmark trials of different receivers will involve making a number of different
measurements on each receiver, depending on the demands of the application.
These will include performance metrics such as time to first fix (TTFF),
positioning accuracy and the speed of reacquisition of signals after outages.
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Setting the benchmark
While it might be tempting to assume that these measurements can be made
effectively in the real world using live-sky signals from the current Global
Positioning System, such an approach is severely flawed due to the
inherently dynamic nature of GPS signals.
Not only do the signals change with the movement of the satellite constellation,
variations in propagation conditions due to the atmosphere and other outside
influences will make a complete nonsense of any attempt to compare receiver
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...even assuming that such variations were acceptable
in providing a rough appraisal of each different
receiver, such "live" tests can only be performed using
today's GPS constellation.
This might be fine for the short term, but with the Russian GLONASS system due
to come on stream within the next couple of years, scheduled enhancements to
GPS and the eventual arrival of the EU's Galileo system, live-sky testing gives no
option to test the Multi-GNSS capabilities that will form the basis of the
next generation of location-enabled equipment.
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The case for simulation
Clearly, to make repeatable and accurate comparisons between multiple
receivers each receiver must be provided with an identical set of signals for
each performance test. The task can also be simplified by the ability to select
from a range of pre-defined scenarios including static, dynamic (land, sea, air,
space) signals as well as impaired signals. This will allow accurate comparisons
to be made after collecting and analysing the data generated by the receivers.
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Logically, then, the only acceptable solution for comparing the performance of
GNSS receivers is to use GNSS simulation. Not only can the simulator be
relied on to produce exactly the same output for each test, the tests can be
programmed to accelerate the process by running a series of pre-defined
scenarios designed to fully exercise the required performance parameters.
Benchmark trials using a simulator can be run at weekends or overnight and do
not require resources to be deployed on field trips.
With careful choice of tests, designers can be
assured that they are choosing the correct GNSS
receiver for application in their end equipment.
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Return on investment
Of course, selecting the correct receiver for the job is only half
the story. Integrating the receiver circuits with the other circuitry of the
equipment is not exactly a "walk in the park" for the uninitiated. However, the
same GNSS simulator used to test the various receivers will have a major role to
play in ensuring that the end equipment performs exactly as intended.
Indeed, simulators have been repeatedly demonstrated to be
the most efficient method of testing during the development
and integration process. The lessons learned during the development of
stand-alone GNSS receivers are all the more applicable to other equipment that
integrates such receivers.
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The cost of taking the equipment out into the
field for live-sky testing is nearly always hugely
underestimated. Indeed, a major global
manufacturer of car navigation systems has
reduced its testing programme from an average
of eight to ten weeks, to an average of
four to five weeks by changing from
driving test-cars to using GNSS simulators.
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The physical integration of a GNSS receiver chipset into a piece of equipment is
not a trivial exercise. And the task is exacerbated by the dual pressures of cost
reduction and miniaturisation. So while the cautious engineer will produce a
well partitioned design in which there will be minimal chance of interference
between the various functional blocks, the cost-conscious engineer will
see opportunities to cut component count and bill of materials by sharing
common circuitry such as power supplies and oscillators.
Interference is inevitable without suitable filtering, and that
filtering can only be designed by simulating the correct
operation of the system.
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Regardless of whether the GNSS receiver is adequately partitioned
from the rest of the design, the chances are that the overall
equipment will incorporate other RF functions, which will inevitably
produce signals many orders of magnitude greater than the signals the
GNSS receiver is designed to receive. Jamming is possible and
interference is likely. Again, simulation of the correct
operation of the system will enable suitable filtering
measures to be designed.
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Continuing returns on investment
The GNSS simulator offers great flexibility to the development engineer from
benchmarking the receiver architectures to managing the integration process.
With suitable software control it is quick and easy to generate additional test
cases or variations of existing test cases, and this enables the speed of test
development to be significantly enhanced.
What's more, the inherent portability of the test scenarios from R&D
downstream to integration offers a significant aid to troubleshooting the overall
design. And it doesn't end there. The tests developed during the integration
process can be cut down to their bare minimum guise to provide simple and
quick functional tests for the finished equipment in the production area.
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This application of the GNSS
simulator through the entire process
from design through integration to
production ensures speedy returns
on the hardware investment.
And the confidence of repeatable
and accurate test results provides
manufacturers with the confidence
that their location-aware products
will perform as designed under all
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If you found this article of interest
You can find more GNSS related technical articles, white papers and eBooks at the
Spirent Positioning website.
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