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Here's How GPS Works: An In-depth Explanation of What It Is

Updated at 09 Apr, 2022

— Ever wondered how GPS navigates? Discover satellite-based tech that powers GPS, enabling global navigation and pinpoint location tracking in our guide.

Here's How GPS Works: An In-depth Explanation of What It Is

In the past, humanity relied on the stars, sun, and moon to guide them on their travels. In today's society, however, we have a far more convenient option: GPS. We can easily find our way to any place with only a smartphone and an internet connection.

In this blog post, we'll look at GPS's purpose and function. GPS, or Global Positioning System, was the first public navigation satellite system available globally. While various navigation satellite systems such as Galileo GPS, BeiDou, GLONASS, and GNSS are available, GPS is the most popular and most frequently used.

what is gps explained

What is GPS?

GPS, initially known as Navstar GPS, is a satellite-based navigation system that offers position, velocity, and time coordination based on a global satellite system.

Nowadays, GPS is everywhere and has become a regular usage in most modern apps, such as smartphones and smartwatches. It is a critical technology that influences the future and helps numerous organizations throughout the world. Some businesses rely on GPS more than others.

GPS tells you where you are on the planet and provides current positioning, navigation, and time services. Its objective is to lead us from one point to another, and it's a free service owned and run by the U.S. government.

How does the GPS function?

To function properly, GPS requires three main segments: the space segment, the control segment, and the user segment.

  • The space segment consists of 24 satellites that transmit one-way signals providing the current GPS position and time of the satellite.

  • The control segment includes monitoring and controlling stations that ensure proper satellite behavior and maintain the health and status of the satellite constellation.

  • Finally, the user segment comprises equipment called a receiver that receives signals from GPS satellites and calculates the user's dimensional position and time.

There are several use cases for GPS, and multiple factors can influence its accuracy. Continue reading to learn more about them.

Similarly, the GPS system consists of three components: satellites, ground stations, and receivers.

  • Ground stations employ radar to ensure that the satellites are located where we believe they are. These stations also maintain the satellites and update their onboard clocks.

  • A GPS receiver, similar to what you may find in your phone or car, is always looking for a signal from satellites. The receiver determines the distance to the satellites using the signals it receives. The receiver needs to lock onto at least four satellites to determine its precise location on Earth.

  • Each satellite continuously broadcasts its position and time using radio signals. The receiver listens for these signals and uses the time stamp in the signal to calculate the distance between the satellite and the receiver. This distance is known as the range.

Once the receiver has obtained the range to at least three satellites, it can use a process called trilateration to calculate its precise position on Earth. The receiver estimates the intersection of spheres centered at each satellite, whose radius is equal to the range from the receiver to the satellite. The intersection of these spheres determines the receiver's position.

How does GPS work?

By receiving signals from satellites, GPS technology employs trilateration to calculate position, velocity, and elevation information.

A GPS device needs to interpret the signal from at least three satellites in order to compute a location on Earth. A fourth satellite, however, is utilized to check the correctness of the data.

The GPS network consists of satellites that circle the Earth twice a day. Each satellite broadcasts a microwave signal that the GPS receiver, or device, uses to calculate the distance between itself and the satellite.

When a satellite sends a signal, it creates a sphere around the satellite with a radius based on the distance to the GPS device. By adding a second satellite, another sphere is created, and the two spheres intersect at two points. Adding a third satellite creates a third sphere, which helps to determine the GPS device's location.

In other words, the world is three-dimensional, so the satellites create spheres instead of simple circles. The intersection of three spheres provides two points, and the nearest point to the Earth is chosen as the GPS device's final position.

ranging and setup of satellites

Key findings of GPS

Here are the key findings of GPS:

  1. GPS stands for Global Positioning System and is a system that uses satellite signals to calculate the location, velocity, and time synchronization.

  2. GPS helps millions of people in their daily lives, from locating the next coffee shop to driving across the country.

  3. The GPS is made up of 24 satellites that orbit the Earth twice a day.

  4. GPS is owned and administered by the United States government and is free to anybody.

  5. Each GPS device may receive signals from six or more satellites, providing for exact position and navigation.

What is a GPS used for?

GPS technology empowers industries such as heavy equipment management, supply chain logistics, and connected car services. With its versatile applications, businesses leverage GPS to streamline operations, dramatically boosting efficiency.

GPS tracking is typically used for the following purposes:

  • Location: establishing a position on Earth.

  • Navigation: getting from point A to point B with ease.

  • Tracking: monitoring physical assets or people.

  • Mapping: building detailed maps of the world.

  • Timing: making time measurements more precise.

GPS trackers are used by fleet managers and vehicle owners to track the position of their cars. The GPS monitoring system can give helpful information to fleet managers such as:

  • The precise position of automobiles at any given time.

  • The distance traveled by automobiles.

  • The time it takes for the vehicle to arrive at its destination.

By monitoring this information, fleet managers can optimize routing, improve customer service, increase cargo security, and understand driving behavior.

For example, if a fleet manager has the responsibility to manage all their vehicles regularly, they can use GPS fleet tracking to monitor and track their movement and track mileage. This information is crucial in understanding where employees and vehicles are at any given moment, where they have traveled, and how long it takes for the vehicle to reach its destination. Or when it has reached a virtual geographical area.

3D illustration of gps use

GPS tracking accuracy

The accuracy of GPS tracking is influenced by several factors, including the number of satellites available, the urban environment, the ionosphere, and more. Common problems that affect GPS accuracy include surrounding mountains, buildings, trees, and heavy storms.

However, the accuracy of GPS tracking has improved significantly over the years and is expected to continue to grow in accuracy and reliability.

For fleet management, precise vehicle data and positioning are crucial, and GPS tracking plays a critical role in achieving this. The AutoPi Asset Tracking solution also relies on GPS functions to provide accurate tracking information.

The U.S. government made GPS publicly available in 1983, but initially limited access and control of data. Since 2000, the general public has gained full access to GPS use.

If you want to discover more about GPS tracking or have any queries, do not hesitate to reach out to us. We would be pleased to offer you further information and assist you in determining the best solution for your requirements. - Tohnny Van Do

Article by

Tohnny Van Do

Marketing Manager / SEO Ninja

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