GPS navigation devices vary in sensitivity, speed, vulnerability to multipath propagation, and other performance parameters. High Sensitivity GPS receivers use large banks of correlators[clarification needed] and digital signal processing to search for GPS signals very quickly. This results in very fast times to first fix when the signals are at their normal levels, for example outdoors. When GPS signals are weak, for example indoors, the extra processing power can be used to integrate weak signals to the point where they can be used to provide a position or timing solution.
GPS signals are already very weak when they arrive at the Earth’s surface. The GPS satellites only transmit 27 W (14.3 dBW) from a distance of 20,200 km in orbit above the Earth. By the time the signals arrive at the user’s receiver, they are typically as weak as −160 dBW, equivalent to one tenth of a million-billionth of a watt (100 attowatts). This is well below the thermal noise level in its bandwidth. Outdoors, GPS signals are typically around the −155 dBW level (-125 dBm).
Conventional GPS receivers integrate the received GPS signals for the same amount of time as the duration of a complete C/A code cycle which is 1 ms. This results in the ability to acquire and track signals down to around the −160 dBW level. High Sensitivity GPS receivers are able to integrate the incoming signals for up to 1,000 times longer than this and therefore acquire signals up to 1,000 times weaker, resulting in an integration gain of 30 dB. A good High Sensitivity GPS receiver can acquire signals down to −185 dBW, and tracking can be continued down to levels approaching −190 dBW.
High Sensitivity GPS can provide positioning in many but not all indoor locations. Signals are either heavily attenuated by the building materials or reflected as in multipath. Given that High Sensitivity GPS receivers may be up to 30 dB more sensitive, this is sufficient to track through 3 layers of dry bricks, or up to 20 cm (8 inches) of steel reinforced concrete for example.
Examples of high sensitivity receiver chips include SiRFstarIII and MediaTekʼs MTK II.