Glasnost iPhone 4S Style

Here’s why Apple paired GPS with Russian Glonass in iPhone 4S.

One of the little reported on details of the iPhone 4S is that the new smart phone includes a pair of global satellite navigation receiver chips in the device, one for GPS and one for Glonass, Russia’s own satellite-based navigation system. First launched in the 1970s, Glonass was a response to our own nascent Global Positioning System, a system that our military could degrade or even turn off at any time. So to maintain control of its own navigation needs, the then-Soviet Union built its own system, Glonass, which has cost many billions, reportedly nearly $5 billion over the past decade alone. Like GPS, Glonass works through the triangulation of satellite signals, though it has fewer satellites than GPS, 24 compared to 31, respectively. And Glonass, while less accurate overall, is optimized for more reliable availability at higher latitudes, to accommodate Russia’s northern geography.

The decision to include a Glonass chip alongside the GPS one might not have been a nod to its Russian customers or to better geo-location services. Russia is accordingly planning to impose a 25 percent tariff on location devices that don’t make use of what it sees as an under-appreciated navigation solution.