The recent crop of Garmin watches have support for something called multi-band GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System). What is it and why should you care? Here’s everything you need to know.
Multi-Band, Multi-GNSS, Dual-Band – what is it?
A Multi-GNSS receiver is able to calculate position, velocity and time by receiving satellite signals broadcast from multiple navigation satellite systems. So instead of just GPS, the system can tap at the same time into GLONASS of Russia, Europe’s GALILEO, China’s BEIDOU and more.
Previously, this type of technology was primarily used for military purposes, automotive navigation, telematics systems, geographical information systems and disaster prevention management systems. Adventurers have also been using this type of technology for decades. Runners and cyclists less so.
Essential reading: Garmin Forerunner 955 vs Fenix 7 vs Epix 2 – which to go for?
This is changing now as companies are starting to include Multi-Band or Dual-Frequency technology in smartwatches. Garmin is one of these. A number of its smartwatches come with the functionality backed in.
Which Garmin watches have Multi-Band – how does it work?
The most recent Garmin additions are the Forerunner 955 and 255, both launched about a month ago. Other Garmin watches with the feature baked in include the Sapphire editions of Fenix 7 and Epix 2, the D2 Mach 1 and Tactix 7 series. It can also be found in the Edge 1040 and 1040 Solar bike computers. Going forward, it is probably safe to say that most Garmin sports watches and bike computers will come with Multi-Band.
The feature utilises both the L1 and L5 frequencies, along with multi-constellation support. The first is reserved for the public, it is free and has been in existence since GPS was established. Other frequencies are used for military and other purposes. But in 2009, the L5 was launched as an additional frequency for public use. Since then compatible satellites have been gradually added to the new constellation making it more conducive for use. Next year, it is estimated that around 70% of satellites floating above will have L5 broadcast capability.
Here’s a nifty illustration from Garmin showing how the tech works in an urban environment.
Advantages of using multi-band GNSS
So what does this mean? Utilising both the L1 and L5 in combination has certain advantages.
- You’ll get better position accuracy and more consistent track-logs with increased number of satellites as compared to GPS-only positioning.
- It improves success rate of positioning by receiving more satellite signals. This is particularly evident in harsh environments and heavily built-up areas where GPS signals can be severely degraded.
- It ensures quicker connection.
- The tech also improves robustness against interferences.
Essentially, it means better, quicker, stronger and more accurate satellite positioning. Of course, this does not mean other Garmin devices are inaccurate. Multifrequency is just an improvement over single frequency receivers. Devices with this are better equipped to deal with location errors.
In real-world usage, the new tech has the potential to provide you with location accuracy about +/- 2 meters or 6 feet under ideal conditions. Watches without this have location accuracy that is within about +/- 3 meters or 10 feet. All of this is under ideal conditions, of course.
It will drain the battery
If you have one of the compatible Garmin watches you have a choice on whether to use the technology or not. The reason why some may choose to opt out is because it is more battery draining than other options.
For example, the Forerunner 955 runs for up to 42 hours in GPS-only mode and 80 hours in Ultratrac mode. Switch All-systems GNSS mode on and this falls to just 8.5 hours! So it does eat up the battery quite a bit. But the improvements are evident as I found out when testing my newly purchased 955. It is both much quicker to secure a signal than the 935 I previously used, and more accurate.
To enable the feature open up Activities & Apps on your watch by long clicking on the middle left button and navigating to the menu option. Choose the activity such as Run, for example. Choose GPS. You’ll then need to decide between “All systems” – which allows for better accuracy, and “All + multi-band” which provides best accuracy. Finally, there’s also an “UltraTrac” option. That one has lower accuracy but your watch will keep going for longer than with other options.
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