More GPS Module Fuckery

I have this on-going project to find a GPS Module that works with my Uniden SDS200 police scanner.  Obviously this is so the scanner will auto update its location when a GPS Module is connected.

Uniden sells one for $50, so the goal is to manufacture one for less than that amount of money.  Actually, I’ve succeeded several times, with my last build costing about $20.

So, what’s the problem you ask?

Almost every GPS Module I have purchased is FAKE.  The GPS Modules that I know are not fake are from Manufacturer recommended sources, and all cost more than $50.  More like in the $70 range.

The most commonly counterfeited chips are U-blox and specifically the NEO-6 series chips.  An actual, REAL NEO-6M CHIP, not module at  Mouser in the US for is $60 for one.  A NEO-7 CHIP, not module, can be purchased from Digikey for $31 and I did find that Digikey calls the NEO-6 series “obsolete”.  In fact U-blox says the NEO-6 is an old product as well.

6=OLD, 9=NEW

So how is that you can do a search for GPS Modules and find $8 NEO-6M modules all over the place? If a legit chip is $31 or more how can a complete module be $8 or $12?

Answer: It can’t. It’s fake.

Now the accuracy of a police scanner GPS chip doesn’t have to be precise, in fact it doesn’t even need to be very good.  It basically needs to know that I am transitioning from New Bern NC to Jacksonville NC.  50 meters one way or the other doesn’t matter much.


See this guy?  Beitian BS-280 that I bought from Amazon for $18.  Hook it to a computer and it says it is a U-blox 7th Generation chip.

Pull the actual data sheet for a Beitian BS-280 GPS Module and it states it has an 8th generation chip in it.

Also when a GPS boots it spits out a few lines from the firmware with $GPTXT headers that say  it’s a U-blox and what version and what firmware version the chip is and if there are any errors.


Interestingly enough those lines are missing at boot time.  Also the 7th gen firmware is 1.00.  There is a 1.01 firmware update available but it cannot be applied because there is no flash ROM on the chip.  Translation:  Fake, Fake, Fake.

So far I have bought 4 from Amazon, 1 from eBay, and 2 from Aliexpress.  All fake.


Here’s  one from Amazon.  Most U-blox chips have three holes in the shield.  This one does, BUT IT IS STILL A FAKE.

These counterfeiters will make fake labels and drill fake holes and sell them as authentic, yet they aren’t.  Or it could be an original chip harvested from some other component, or it could be an original chip placed on a module missing components that don’t meet specifications.

You have to know EXACTLY what you’re looking at AND EXAMINE THE SOFTWARE to recognize a fake.

Here’s a Beitian BN-880 from Geekstory on Amazon.  It is supposed to have a U-blox 8030 chipset and flash memory.  Guess what?  No flash memory.  It throws up a big red page with “Flash Device Not Supported”  Fake!

Now consequently here is a Sparkfun NEO-M9N that cost around $65.  Wanna know why it costs $65?  BECAUSE IT IS AN AUTHENTIC NEO-M9N chip. Even though it had the latest firmware I ran an upgrade on it to see if the firmware would load.  It did.   Note the word “Success” in the bottom left pane.

Also of note is that I plug the fakes in and get a small handful of satellites.  I plug in this real module INDOORS and it immediately grabs about 10 satellites from the whole GNSS mix. US, Russian, Chinese, Galileo, etc.  And that my friends is what an authentic chip will do compared to a phony piece of crap.

This is ridiculous.  I’m wondering where the FBI is regarding all these counterfeit, imported items?

Here are 6 of the 7 chips I ordered either from Amazon, eBay, or AliExpress.  There is a 7th but I basically tore it apart to more accurately document the false components.  So I am 7 for 7 buying on the open market OUTSIDE OF MANUFACTURER RECOMMENDED SOURCES.

To get an authentic U-blox chip on a GPS Module, you essentially have to go through them to find out where to get one.  Their website leads to a few products with authentic chips.  Click on any of those modules though and they are $40 and up.

You can get GPS modules with other chipsets and for example boards with the MediaTek MT3333 board are pretty good. Also there are some modules out there with Sirf Star IV chipsets that work okay.  I use some of those GPS pucks on my other police scanners.  I personally would not buy GPS Modules from anywhere but the following sources:

  • Digikey
  • Mouser
  • Adafruit
  • Sparkfun
  • Directly from manufacturer

Buy a GPS Module anywhere else then that, and you are going to get a fake.

And the more recent the chipset the more Constellations you will receive (i.e. GPS, GLOSNASS, BeiDou, Galileo, and auxiliary ground stations).  Newer is better unless you have a simplistic mission as in my police scanner project.

Hobbyists that drop hundreds of dollars in a drone probably don’t want to drop another $75 in a single chip especially when they know they may lose it or destroy it in a crash. $8 GPS’s that are somewhat accurate are pretty tempting.

And as I stated in my police scanner project……..accuracy is not really an issue.  Just getting a chip with a satellite lock is all you need.  If it costs $8………then all the better.

Except, I don’t roll like that.  I wasn’t a fan of Napster, or downloading current In Theater movies. I don’t like throwing my money at crooks.  And this isn’t even entirely a case of China ripping off the US.  It’s more a case of China ripping off and counterfeiting items made in China to begin with.  These people knowingly are selling something counterfeit.

6 thoughts on “More GPS Module Fuckery

  1. Frank

    Yes been sucked in,
    hooked NEO-8M module up to usb port nmea string wrong and u-center2 not wanting to play
    clearly Aliepress fake purchase will never again cost with postage $20AUD
    are Adafruit & Sparkfun dealers in Au will deal with legit in the future

    1. John Hagensieker Post author

      U-center2 is for Neo-10 and above. But no doubt if you bought modules from Ali then you probably got fakes.

  2. Badar

    I bought one of those Neo-6m modules and it takes so long to get a fix. Once it gets a fix, I disconnect the power for 5mins and power it back up, it looses its fix and takes like 10 more mins to find the fix again. So annoying. But the fake chip explains that. Can’t trust anything that the data sheet says. I am testing some Chinese chips that don’t claim to be something that they aren’t. If I don’t get the desired performance, will switch to the quality stuff.

  3. Eric Flynn

    You are completely misinterpreting what is likely going on here. While there are likely legitimate fakes out there, most of what you are determining to be fake likely are not. As you should know, flash is one of the most expensive options on silicon. These chips can be custom ordered from Ublox (as just about any other chip from any other manufacturer if you buy enough of them) without flash. The other option is flash areas on silicon are prone to defects rendering that area of the chip useless. Manufacturers often sell chips with varying amounts of flash, or none at all at significantly less cost as it isnt required sometimes for general functionality. You will not find these options on Digikey etc. and will only be available to very high volume commercial buyers. Also, most chips in a family of chips are done this way. They are fabbed as the same chip with the same spec, but various defects in the fab process may render a portion, or all of flash, or some other kind of memory etc. inoperable. So they will disable that portion and sell them as a chip with less flash etc. Same goes for computer CPU’s and any other “chip”. This is why there is a range of speeds, cache etc for a given family. They are all manufactured as the same, high spec chip. A number of them will have defects that limit speed, cache and other options and they are marked and sold as a cheaper, lower performance option. Or it can be a perfect chip, and they cripple them intentionally to meet market demands. The shielding can and number of holes have nothing to say about them being fake. The carrier board and shielding etc. is an option the manufacturer has to construct themselves using Ublox silicon and is simply based on the Ublox reference design.

    1. SammySmall

      That may be true, partially, but buying a product touted as a U-blox device carries an expectation on the part of the buyer that they are getting a fully functional u-blox device, not a factory second that doesn’t have all the functionality a real module has. Either way, “Just-as-good-as” for 25% of the cost is not a thing. Ever.


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