The Next Web reported on the eve of the October 4 unveiling that iPhone 4S would have “more definitive GPS features”, leaving many watchers scratching their head. The cryptic hint has now been deciphered by Russian-language which first spotted a mention of GLONASS on Apple’s iPhone 4S specs page, apparently added recently (see the screenshot below). Another report by went on to speculate that the quiet addition of GLONASS could be related to the fact that the Russian government threatened to ban the importation of cell phones that do not support this technology.

GLONASS, an acronym for GLObalnaya NAvigatsionnaya Sputnikovaya Sistema, is a version of Global Navigation Satellite System operated for the Russian government by the Russian Space Forces. The work on the GLONASS system began in the Soviet Union back in 1976. It has been conceived as an alternative to Global Positioning System (GPS) and as such meant to reduce the reliance on global communications satellites operated by the United States.

Last week, a Soyuz booster rocket lifted the last of the 24 satellites for the GLONASS constellation. When it comes online, the GLONASS network will provide full global coverage. Apple may be relying on this chip from Broadcom that combines Bluetooth + FM + GNSS solutions in a tiny package. It also supports Bluetooth 4.0, first utilized on an iOS device with iPhone 4S.

Already some global positioning hardware is compatible with the GLONASS system, including Nokia phones coming out next year. The ailing cell phone giant praised GLONASS for being “better for northern latitudes”. Whether or not Apple’s adoption of GLONASS is a concession to Russia is up for a debate. Russian president met Steve Jobs in Cupertino last summer so GLONASS might have been one of the topics of their conversation. Apple’s products are huge among the Russian elite and are also picking up steam with middle-class citizens. We know Apple is taking the 142 million people market of Russia seriously. CEO Tim Cook told analysts on a conference call that Russia is looking “more promising”. The executive also highlighted “significant opportunities” lying ahead in the broader Middle East and Asia Pacific regions.

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