A first look at the Broadcom BCM47755 dual-frequency receiver

Over the last few months, readers have sent me several data sets collected from cell phones using the Broadcom BCM47755 dual-frequency GNSS chip. In most cases, however, the quality of the data was low and the number of cycle slips made it difficult to do any meaningful analysis. More recently I was sent some BCM4755 data collected from a Xiaomi Mi8 phone mounted on a tripod with a ground plane underneath that was noticeably better quality than the previous data sets. This data came from Julian who is trying to use the phone for forestry applications and has an open project he is working on here. In this post, I will describe my experiences attempting to use RTKLIB to analyze this data.

This is the first time I have worked with L5 data with RTKLIB so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Fortunately, with a few minor updates to the code handling code in RTKLIB which I have included in the most recent b33 version of the demo5 code, the code was able to see and process the L5 observations. Both rover and base observation files were sent to me in rinex format.

According to the rover file header, the rover rinex file was generated by Geo++ RINEX Logger App for Android (Version 2.1.3). It contains L1/E1/B1 observations for GPS, Glonass, Galileo, and Bediou and L5/E5a observations for GPS and Galileo. Like L2C, not all of the GPS satellites support L5 yet. In this case, only two of the six GPS satellites supported L5 data. All four of the Galileo satellites supported E1 and E5a observations but the rover was unable to pick up both frequencies for the one satellite between 10 and 15 degrees elevation. Below is a plot of the rover observations using RTKPLOT. Satellites in gray are below 10 degrees elevation. The rest of the colors indicate the frequencies of the observations according to the color key at the bottom of the plot. There is an error in the Galileo plot colors in which E5a-only observations are being plotted in green rather than gray. Overall though, the data is of reasonably good quality and has only a small number of receiver-reported cycle slips (red ticks).

Rover observations for B47755

The base data was from a CORS station about 20 km away and had matching signals for all the rover observations plus many more. Here is a plot of the base observations. This data is very clean.

For my initial attempt to run an RTKLIB solution on this data, I used the same config file I use for u-blox L1-only solutions except I changed the frequency mode from “l1” to “l1+l2+l5” Even though, there is no L2 data in these observations, RTKLIB does not allow you to individually select frequencies, just the number of frequencies, so valid choices are “l1”, “l1+l2”, and “l1+l2+l5”.

This run did not go well and digging into the trace file I found that RTKLIB was detecting many false cycle slips. The code attempts to detect cycle slips using the geometry-free linear combination of the L1 and L5 phase measurements. Either the threshold ( pos2-slipthres) is too tight for this data, or there is something wrong with this check. For the time being, I increased the slip threshold from the default of 5 cm to 50 cm and this eliminated the false slip detections.

Even with this change however, the solution was still very poor. Digging back into the trace debug file, I found more problems with cycle slips. This time I was finding that real cycle slips were not being flagged by the rover receiver in the rinex data. These unreported cycle slips were introducing large errors into the bias states in the kalman filter and preventing convergence. RTKLIB has always had trouble dealing with unflagged cycle slips. The u-blox receivers are very good at consistently flagging cycle slips which is why RTKLIB tends to work better with u-blox receivers than many other receiver types.

RTKLIB has some code to detect and reject outliers, but this code has never worked very well and I have generally recommended setting the outlier threshold (pos2-rejionno) to 1000 meters to effectively disable this feature.

For the BCM47755 receiver however, it was clear that this was not going to work. So I made some changes to the RTKLIB code to more fully ignore the outliers, and to reset the phase bias estimates when an outlier was detected. I also changed the way this threshold is interpreted for phase and code observations. Previously the threshold was used without adjustment for both phase and code observations. Since the code errors are much larger than the phase errors, this meant that the limit had to be set large enough so as to catch code outliers only. For the b33 demo5 code I changed this so that the unadjusted threshold is still used for the phase observations but the threshold is multiplied by the error ratio between phase and code observations (pos2-eratio1) before being used with code observations. This means that it can be set much lower and now becomes useful for detecting cycle slips instead of just code errors.

I have actually been using this fix for custom versions of RTKLIB for a while and usually get good results setting this to roughly one GPS L1 cycle or 20 centimeters. In this case though the rover data appears to be too noisy for this and I had to set the threshold to 50 centimeters (pos2-rejionno=0.50) to avoid triggering an excessive number of outliers.

With this change, the solution was much better and provided a solid fix after about four minutes with a “forward” solution as shown in the plot below. Even though the rover was static, I ran the solution as kinematic to get a better indication of the unfiltered errors. I also verified that this solution is using all the available measurements in the rinex file.

With a “combined” solution, the result was 100% fix.

This appears to be a fairly promising start for the BCM47755. It is still not nearly as solid as a u-blox receiver but some of this can be attributed to the fact that this data was collected with the internal phone antenna which is likely to be fairly low quality.

Unfortunately, other data sets from the same experimental setup did not generate solutions as solid as this. In particular the Galileo observations sometimes were not consistent with observations from the other constellations and prevented the kalman filter from converging.

Overall, my impression is that using BCM47755 and RTKLIB together for PPK solutions is still fairly immature and not ready for any real applications but hopefully this will change with time.

I am very interested in anyone else’s experiences with the BCM47755 for RTK or PPK solutions, particularly in combination with RTKLIB and hoping anyone with experience with this chip will add a comment below.

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Dual-frequency PPK solutions with RTKLIB and the u-blox F9P

With previous generations of u-blox receivers there has been a lower priced option available without an internal RTK engine, such as the popular M8T in the generation 8 modules. This does not appear to be the case with the new dual-frequency generation 9 modules, as the F9T, without internal RTK solution, is currently priced higher than the F9P with internal solution.

As the u-blox internal RTK solution in the F9P appears to be very robust, there is probably no good reason to ever use RTKLIB for real-time solutions with the F9P. However, it often still makes sense to use RTKLIB to post-process raw data previously collected by the F9P since the F9P is not capable of post-processing solutions.

Post-processed (PPK) solutions have several advantages over real-time solutions. The rover hardware is simpler, less expensive, lighter, and lower power since post-processing does not require a real-time data link between base and rover. Post-processed solutions also tend to be more robust than real-time solutions, both because they are not subject to data dropouts in the base data link and because they allow for solution techniques that take advantage of both past and future observations, not just past observations. When the solution is not required in real-time, it often makes more sense to collect the data first and then process it later.

Collecting data and processing RTK solutions for the dual-frquency F9P with RTKLIB is not very different for doing this for the single-frequency u-blox M8T, and if you are already familiar with doing that, you will probably not have much trouble adapting to the F9P. However, since it’s been a long time since I did a post on this subject, I thought it would be worth going over again with some updated tips for the new receiver.

Step 1: Configuring the receiver:

To process an RTKLIB solution, we will need raw observation messages from both rover and base receivers and navigation data messages from one of the receivers. The receivers do not output these messages by default so we will need to configure them to do this. With the u-blox M8T it was possible to do this directly with RTKLIB using a command file but this is not an option with the F9P as RTKLIB does not currently support the new F9P configuration messages.

Instead we will download the u-blox u-center app and use this to configure the receivers, then save the results to the on-board flash. There are detailed instructions on how to do this in the F9P documentation available on the u-blox website but here’s a quick summary of the process.

  1. Plug the receiver into a Windows PC using a USB cable if the board supports USB or with an FTDI serial/USB converter if the receiver only has a UART port.
  2. Start the “u-center” app and connect to the receiver with the “Connection” command on the “Receiver” tab. If it is a USB connection, baud rate won’t matter, but if it is a UART->USB connection through FTDI, then you will have to set the correct baud rate from the “Receiver” tab. If all is well, you should see the green connection indicator flashing at the bottom of the screen
  3. From the “View” tab, open the “Messages”, Configure”, “Gen 9 Configure”, and “Packet Console” windows
  4. If using the UART port, click on “PRT (Ports)” from the “Configure” window, set the Target to “1-UART1” and “Baudrate” to the desired baud rate, and click on “Send”. I typically set this to 115200 baud. You will then need to change the baud rate in u-center to the new baud rate. If you are using the USB port directly, you can skip this step.
  5. From the “Configure” window, click on “RATE”, and set “Measurement Period” to the desired time between observation samples, then click on “Send”. I typically set this to 200 ms which gives a 5 Hz sample rate.
  6. From the “Gen 9 Configure” window, select “GNSS Configuration”, enable the desired constellations and signals, select “RAM” and “Flash” under “Layer Selection”, then click on “Send Configuration”. The F9P supports GPS L1C/A and L2C, Glonass L1 and L2, Galileo E1 and E5b, BediDou B1 and B2, and QZSS L1C/A.
  7. From the “Messages” window, right click on “NMEA” and then click on “Disable Child Messages” to disable all the NMEA messages. None of these are needed for an RTK solution but if you want any of the messages for other reasons you can then individually enable the ones you need.
  8. From the “Messages” window, double click on “UBX” then “RXM”. Right click and enable “RAWX” to enable raw observation messages and “SFRBX” to enable navigation messages. Alternatively, you can enable the RTCM3 messages from the “Gen 9 Configure” window. In this case you will want to enable the 1077,1087,1097,and 1127 messages. I have occasionally had trouble enabling the RTCM3 messages on the F9P and have had to use the “Revert to default configuration” option under the “CFG” command first to get this working.
  9. If an antenna is connected to the receiver and is not completely blocked, verify that you see RAWX and SFRBX messages appear in the “Packet” window.
  10. From the “Configure” window, select “CFG”, then “Save current configuration” then “Send” to save these settings to the flash on-board the F9P module.
  11. Repeat this procedure for the base receiver except set the “Measurement Period” under “RATE” to “1000 ms” for a 1 Hz sample rate. You will only need one set of navigation data so you can choose not to enable the SFRBX messages on the base. I tend to leave them enabled just because it makes plotting slightly easier later if each set of observations has its own navigation data.

If you have any trouble with the above summary, you might find this YouTube video from Robo Roby useful. It is intended for setting up the F9P for real-time solutions, not post-processing, but there is a lot of overlap between the two.

In the descriptions below STRSVR, RTKCONV, RTKPLOT, and RTKPOST are all RTKLIB GUI apps. They can be opened individually or you can start by opening RTKLAUNCH and run the individual apps from there. I do not believe the official 2.4.2 or 2.4.3 versions of RTKLIB fully support the F9P receiver yet so I would recommend using the demo5 version of RTKLIB available here.

RTKLAUNCH used to open the different RTKLIB apps

Step 2: Collecting the data:

  1. For this exercise I will connect both base and rover directly to a Windows PC through the USB port. You can connect both receivers to one PC or each to a separate PC.
  2. Launch two instances of STRSVR, one for each receiver
  3. Set the input stream to “Serial”, click on the input “Opt” button and set the port and baud rate. Set the output stream to file and click on the output “Opt” to set the file name. Click on the “?” to get a list of keyword replacements for the file name. I like to add “_%h%M” to the end of the file name which will append the hour and minute of the data to the file name. If you are collecting long data sets you might want to set the “Swap Intv” to break up the data into manageable file sizes. Note that you will need to use the keywords in this case to avoid overwriting the same file repeatedly. Give the file name a “.ubx” extension to let RTKLIB know that it is u-blox binary data.
  4. Click “Start” to start collecting data.
STRSVR used to collect the raw data

Step 3: Convert the observation data to rinex format:

  1. Start the RTKCONV app
  2. Click on the “…” button to the right of the “RTCM, RCV RAW or RINEX OBS” field and select the observation file created in the previous step.
  3. If the file extension is not “.ubx” set the “Format” to “u-blox”, otherwise leave as “Auto”
  4. Click on the “Options” button and select “L1”, “L2/E5b”, and all GNSS constellations collected (usually “GPS”,”GLO”,”GAL”, and possibly “BDS” (Bediou) depending on your location. Then close the options menu.
  5. Click on “Convert” to convert from binary to rinex format.
RTKCONV used to convert the raw data from binary format to rinex text format

Step 4: Review the observation data:

  1. Before processing the solution, it is a good idea to look at the data first and make sure it is complete, of reasonable quality, and at the right sample rate.
  2. From the RTKCONV main window, click on “Plot” to plot the observations you just converted.
  3. Verify there are observations from all constellations. Green indicates dual frequency measurements, yellow is single frequency. The GPS observations will be a mix of single and dual frequency since only about half of the satellites currently support L2C used by the F9P, but the other constellations should be nearly all dual frequency.
  4. Red ticks indicate cycle slips. Too many of these will make it difficult to get a decent solution. Gaps in the data usually indicate the receiver lost lock and these are not good unless they are in the low elevation satellites.
  5. If all the satellites are in gray, this usually indicates you are missing the navigation data. The previous step should have generated a “.nav” file as well as a “.obs” file. If just a few satellites are in gray, this normally indicates that they are below the elevation threshold which can be adjusted in the options menu selected in the top right corner with the star-like icon.
  6. Check both rover and base observations.
  7. In some cases you may only have one set of navigation data and so not have a matching “.nav” file for one of your observation files. In that case you can manually specify the navigation data with the “Open Nav Data…” option in the “File” tab.
Plot of raw observations

Step 5: Generate the position solution

  1. Open RTKPOST
  2. From the “…” buttons on the right hand side of the GUI, select the rover observation file, the base observation file, and the navigation file as shown in the example below.
  3. Click on the “Options” button and then the “Load” button. Select the “demo5_m8t_5hz.conf” file from the same folder as the demo5 RTKLIB executables, and then click on “Open”
  4. From the “Setting1” tab in the “Options” menu, enable “Galileo” and if applicable “Bediou”. “GPS” and “GLO” should already be enabled.
  5. From the “Setting2” tab in the “Options” menu, set “Integer Ambiguity Res (GLO)” to “On”. We are able to use the “On” setting in this case because the receivers are identical and so the Glonass hardware biases cancel. If you are not using an F9P receiver for base, then leave this field set to “Fix-and-Hold” which will automatically calibrate out the biases.
  6. From the “Setting1” tab in the “Options” menu, change the “Frequencies” from “L1” to “L1+L2”. This is the only change you should need to make to switch from processing single-frequency data to dual-frequency data for the F9P. The Galileo second frequency for the F9P is actually E5b not L2 but to simplify and improve the processing speed, I have modified the demo5 code to include “E5b” processing as Galileo’s second frequency. This won’t be the case for the 2.4.2 or 2.4.3 code. I don’t believe it’s currently possible to include the E5b data with these versions of RTKLIB but if I’m wrong please let me know
  7. Click on “OK” to close the Options menu.
  8. Click on “Execute” to run the solution. The bar at the bottom of the GUI will show the solution status as it runs and will report any errors. You should see a mix of Q=1 and Q=2 as the solution runs. If you see only Q=0, something is wrong. In this case, open the “Options” window, select the “Output” tab and set “Output Debug Trace” to “Level3”, exit the Options menu, and rerun the solution. Then open the “.trace” file in the solution folder for additional information on what went wrong.
  9. Click on “Plot” to plot the solution with RTKPLOT
RTKPOST used to generate a PPK solution
Plot RTKPOST generated PPK solution

This was just meant to be a quick summary of the process. For more details please see the references below.

References:

  1. u-center User Guide
  2. u-blox F9P Interface Description
  3. RTKLIB manual
  4. Updated guide to the RTKLIB configuration file