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Nokia offers assistance for unresponsive GPS phones

Urban canyon? What urban canyon?

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Nokia has tacitly admitted the GPS units it builds into a small number of its mobile phones are having problems quickly calculating their locations and has fallen back on data sent over the mobile phone network to mitigate the issue.

But wait a minute - it's not a bug, it's a feature. Nokia is spinning the approach as a "new" technology called Assisted GPS (A-GPS). It's already incorporated into the Nokia 6110 Navigator phone, but the service is also available for the N95 through a new firmware update.

When Register Hardware reviewed the N95, we found its GPS facility to be the weakest part of the package by far. The problem: the difficulty the handset had in getting a fix on the GPS satellites in an urban environment.

A-GPS works by sending initial GPS data from the handset back to a central server. The server compares its own GPS signal with what it's getting from the phone. With some smart number crunching, it can send an accurate location back to the handset. In essence it makes the handset's GPS receiver seem more sensitive than it actually is.

The location data send back to the phone is used by Nokia's Maps app to plot the phone's position in situations where it's having a tough time getting a decent GPS pick up - in streets between tall buildings, for example.

A-GPS isn't new - it's been in development since the early 2000s at least. Past research has shown that the time needed to get an initial location fix can be reduced from a minute to under 30s. There's a potential knock on improvement to accuracy too, though this isn't a feature Nokia was touting today. Battery life can be improved too, because the GPS receiver doesn't need to be at full operational power for as long as it does when it's working alone.

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