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What is multi-band GPS?

If you’re choosing a smartwatch or fitness tracker and see that there’s a multi-band GPS feature, what exactly does that mean? This article explains how it works.

When you’re using a smartwatch to track your running routes or cycling speeds, typically you want it to be as accurate as possible so that every minute of your exertion is logged exactly as it happened. In a bid to do just that, manufacturers have been revealing ever-increasingly precise location tracking on their devices – and one such example is multi-band GPS.

To understand multi-band GPS, firstly you need to bee familiar with the concept of GPS. Standing for Global Positioning System, this tool uses a system of satellites which transmit signals in order to determine your relatively precise position on the surface on the planet.

When originally conceived, GPS operated on two frequencies: L1, which was available for public use, and L2, which was used for military purposes. In more recent years, a new frequency, L5, which is capable of greater accuracy, has been added to its capabilities. Multi-band GPS can track you using this frequency as well as L1, which means that its results should be more precise.

It’s worth noting that at the time of writing, the L5 frequency is not yet fully operational; Garmin estimates that 52% of GPS satellites had L5 in March 2021, and by 2023 it is expected that 71% of GPS satellites will have this capability.

In the below video from smartwatch manufacturer Garmin, the benefits of multi-band GPS are explained:

As stated in the video, multi-band GPS should mean stronger positional accuracy, even when in challenging conditions such as when you’re surrounded by walls and trees which could block the signal.

In our review of the Garmin Fenix 7, which boasts this feature, we noted that: “the extra accuracy is there to see. It’s not 100% perfect, but on most of my runs the difference in the mapped routes in the Garmin Connect app showed a clear improvement in tracking performance.”

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