How GPS Works in Devices Interesting Facts to Know

How GPS Works in Devices Interesting Facts to Know

We are now living in the future world. From the start of the day to the end of the day every technology we are using seems like comes from future. In the way the technology is changing, soon we may live in the alien world. Lets understand how GPS works in devices.

Technology makes the life more sophisticated and easy. It was never so easy before. If we tear the pages of history you will find how the human civilization came from the Stone Age to the modern age.

Some technologies are now part of our daily life as well. We have included the technologies in our daily schedules also. One of the technology is GPS technology.

GPS technology is counted as one of the revolutionary technology of the humanity.

History is full of cases where people were getting lost. Sometimes it may be intentionally but not always. People are really lost the way and find himself in an unknown place. It creates thousands of difficulties.

Thank god, GPS is here. Now it’s almost impossible to get lost. No matter how hard you try for it. Whether you go to slide in the glacier or climb to the pick of Mount Everest, you are always under the eye.

You may think that its god. Yes, it may be but let be techy. You are always in sight of satellites spinning through space. It has the capability to tell you exactly where you are. And GPS in the form of Android Application has fueled the system to next level.

All you need to have a GPS enable device. If you have a working GPS device, then you will never lose in the earth at least.

But how the magic happens. How a satellite present in outer space can guide us in the right direction. How GPS works actually? This is the first question arises when we talk anything about the GPS.

A brief history of GPS

The GPS project was launched in the United States in 1973. It was invented to overcome the several limitations of previous navigation systems. The old navigation systems are not that much efficient at that time.

It gets the shape from integrating ideas from several predecessors, including classified engineering design studies from the 1960s. The U.S. Department of Defence developed the whole system. It was originally used 24 satellites.

It was initially developed for use by the United States for military purposes. It was fully operational in 1995. It was allowed for civilian use in the 1980s.

As the whole system was developed by the U.S, It denies the access to the system to the Indian military in 1999 during the Kargil War. Then the world realizes that GPS is an essential thing for any nation. The nation also realizes the need for GPS in situations like this.

As a result, Russia has developed its own GPS Russian Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS). China also developing its own BeiDou Navigation Satellite System. There is also the European Union Galileo positioning system. India has launched its own navigation satellite system NAVIC. Here we can not neglect the Artificial Intelligence in the field of technology advancement.

How GPS works?

This is the center point of our discussion. We may have used the GPS thousands time before reading this article. I bet that GPS may be the part of daily life of someone.

Every transportation vehicle has the facility to install a GPS device. But a question arises how the satellite tracks each and every GPS enabled device. How GPS works actually.

How GPS Work

The real strength of GPS comes from satellites. At least 24 GPS satellites are always in orbit around the Earth these are constantly broadcasting data in form of radio wave. Due to the GPS the Google Map has played one of the most effective role in technology.

The satellites are arranged in orbit such that at least four satellites are visible in the sky from any point on Earth. You can’t actually see them, because they are present in the orbit.

But there’s a direct path for the radio transmissions for emitting and collecting data. This means that GPS won’t work if the radio-wave signals are being blocked. You have to have a fairly direct path between you and the sky. In a cave or underground bunker or under a mountain, the GPS won’t work properly.

GPS satellites are constantly transmitting radio-waves towards the Earth. Each transmission signal includes the location of the GPS satellite and the exact time the signal was sent. So the time is very precise. Each satellite has an atomic clock onboard. Even one second of time is divided into thousands of seconds to track the exact time.

Since the signals are radio waves, they must travel at the speed of light. When each signal arrives, the receiver present in the earth can figure out how long it took to travel and how far it has come. To make it simple, how far the signal travel from the sending satellite.

Not a single satellite emits the signal. Multiple satellites emit data and one single point on earth can receive multiple signals. Combining the data of three or four signals, the receiver can easily figure out exactly where it is on Earth. This is the most basic concept of GPS.

How GPS determines your location actually?

There is a various device that has built-in GPS. Whether it is a smartphone or a dedicated in-car GPS navigation unit the principle is the same. The devices only act as a GPS receiver.

Many people have the doubt that GPS devices have to always connect to the satellites. But a device with GPS does not need “contacting” satellites to determine its location. Instead, it’s just listening for the radio signals. The Radio signals are being broadcast from these satellites all the time all over the world.

A GPS receiver listens for signals from at least four or more satellites. Signals from the closer satellites will arrive sooner as compared to distance satellites. The actual time difference between these satellites is very small but can be easily detected by the GPS receiver.

How GPS determines your location

By comparing the time the signal was broadcast from the satellite and the time the signal arrived, the receiver can estimate its relative distance from all four satellites. Using a technology trilateration, the receiver can then determine its location.

You may have the doubt that what is trilateration?

To say frankly trilateration is a bit complicated process. Let’s make it simple with a simple example.

Assume that I have given you three distances from a certain place. Means if the certain place name is X then the distances are from this place. You can easily estimate where the X location is. To make your work simpler I have also given you the fourth distance. Now you will estimate your location even more precisely.

So the GPS receivers are doing the exact same steps to determine the exact location. The calculation is very fast and accurate.

This the simplest description against your query how GPS works. From now on words, if someone asks you about how GPS work, you are in a position to explain it. You may not explain the whole things but I sure that you will definitely describe two lines.

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Alternatives to GPS technology

After knowing how GPS works, you may have the curiosity, to know is there any alternative technology are there or not. I agree that GPS is the trusted and advanced technology for determining the location. But this, not the only way.

Your current location can be measured in different ways. The 911 service of USA uses cell-phone tower strength information to track the exact position of mobile phones.

Alternatives to GPS technology

This principle is also the same here. Your device can estimate your current location by measuring the signal strength differences between multiple cell towers in your coverage area.

Some devices also use a Wi-Fi based positioning system (WPS) to determine their current location. Google’s street view trucks drive around, capturing the names of nearby access points.  It also collects the data of their relative strengths at certain locations.

Your smartphone scans for nearby wireless networks then sends a complete list of their names and signal strengths to Google’s servers. Google uses their giant database (also uses AI) and estimates where you are.

By the way, Google is not the only provider of Wi-Fi-based positioning system data. I put this example because of its popularity. This technology is super convenient for in indoor locations where GPS signals can’t reach.

The GPS system is not the only network of satellites that should use worldwide. As I told earlier the system is fully developed by the US military and offers for public uses.

Russia has its own GPS Russian Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS). India has launched its own navigation satellite system NAVIC. China also developing its own BeiDou Navigation Satellite System. There is also the European Union Galileo positioning system.

Sometimes GPS technology fails. Then these alternative technologies will back-up the process. There are many cases when the GPS shows wrong locations. So it is not a full-proof technology. But it’s a faithful technology.

Is there any difference between military and civilian GPS?

We already know that GPS was made for US military and offered the public to use. Soon after the inventors realize the difficulty. If civilians (or enemy forces) pick up the same signals of US military so what will be the military advantage.

For this reason, they developed two different “flavors” of GPS. A highly sophisticated and accurate military-grade, known as Precise Positioning Service (PPS), and a somewhat low-grade civilian version called Standard Positioning Service (SPS).

No doubt that the PPS service was more accurate than the normal SPS. But nowadays there is not that much of difference between the two. The SPS also improving its level of accuracy day after day. The technologies are added each day.

Use of GPS in Military

Civilian SPS receivers are now officially accurate to within “13 meters (95 percent) horizontally and 22 meters (95 percent) vertically”. Civilian GPS will become increasingly accurate when more and more satellites will connect to this systems. But the military systems will always have an advantage.

It is justified that military and security services should use the best quality GPS service. It’s essential for the nation’s security.

Uses of GPS technology

Now we have much clarity about how GPS works, so we can proceed. Without knowing how GPS works we may not know the importance of it. There is widespread use of GPS technology. Where ever you turn your eye you will see some application of this technology.

Uses of GPS technology

The most used sector is transportation. Now every modern vehicle has in-built GPS technology. The vehicles that don’t have In-built GPS, can install it separately and very easily.

The GPS devices are now cheap and available. So every second vehicle has a GPS enabled device.

In medical sectors(GPS), the ambulance services use this GPS technology to reach the patient quickly. The control room of the ambulance service can also track the location of the vehicle and send an ambulance nearest to the patent.

School and university buses are also GPS enabled with USB device to track the path. Food delivery vehicle also enables with this technology.

If I discuss one after one it may take a year to explain it all. You name it all. The uses are almost infinite.


We have started our discussion on how GPS works and now we are in conclusion.

We all using this technology every day. So why to stick with the minimum (no) knowledge about the functionality. You may have some knowledge about it after reading this.

This is a revolutionary technology and helping millions of people each day. In coming days the technology will be used more. So more experiment in this sectors will improve the system. As the self-driving cars are evolving, the GPS technology will play a vital role in this sectors.

Several countries have already started there works on developing their own GPS technology. So in the future, we will get a more advanced version of this technology. This will make the life more sophisticated.

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