Almost every smart device uses GPS to track and monitor your location, and other physical activities over a distance. It helps you navigate from Point A to Point B.
But do you know, how GPS does this, how does GPS work, and what are its other uses?
Well, we’ll discuss the same here in this article. Let’s understand how the GPS system works, what it is used for, how accurate it is, and its receivers and modules work.
A Brief History of GPS
Humans have been practicing navigation for millions of years with the help of the Sun, Moon, and stars. GPS Global positioning system is an advancement to the same technology in the 20th century, using space-age technology.
The first peek into GPS was witnessed when Russia launched its first Sputnik 1 satellite in 1957. Soon after that, the US Department of Defense began exploring the geolocation capabilities for submarine navigation.
Although the GPS was made available to the public in 1983 by the US government, the control of data was kept by the government itself. It was only in 2000 when the companies and the public finally gained complete access to using GPS.
What is GPS and How Does it Work?
GPS, or Global Positioning System, provides navigation, positioning, and timing measurements. GPS tracking system uses satellites, receivers, and algorithms to synchronize various locations, time data, and velocity. A GPS system’s synchronization is used for land, sea, and air travel.
The GPS navigation system is managed by the United State Government and can be freely accessible by just a GPS receiver to anyone. The system consists of a network of 24 satellites that are placed by the US Department of Defense into the Earth’s orbit.
Although the GPS tracking system was primarily made just for the use of military applications, it was available for civilians to use during 1980s.
Key Elements of GPS
A GPS tracking system is made up of three different elements, also known as segments. These segments work collectively to provide you with location information.
The three segments that make key elements of the Indian GPS system are:
- Space/ Satellites: The first element is satellites orbiting the Earth in space. These satellites transmit data signals to users on their geographical location and time of the day.
- Ground Control: The ground control, also known as the ‘control segment’ consists of ground antenna, master control stations, and monitor stations on the Earth. Activities in the control segment include operating and tracking the satellites in space and monitoring their transmissions. These monitoring stations are in all the continents of the world including Europe, North & South America, Asia, Africa, and Australia.
- User Equipment: It is the end-user GPS receiver and transmitter equipment. These include items such as smartphones, watches, and other telematic devices.
How Does GPS Technology Work?
Let’s understand how GPS works in detail by understanding the technology and concepts used behind it.
The GPS tracking system works on a unique technique known as trilateration. Using this technique, you can calculate velocity, elevation, and location by collecting signals from satellites to determine the information of output location.
(Note: However, the word, ‘trilateration’ is often mistaken for the term ‘triangulation’ which is a technique used for measuring angles, not distances.)
So, in simple words, satellites that are orbiting the Earth in space send signals that are to be read and interpreted through a GPS device located near or on the Earth’s surface. To calculate the exact location, a GPS tracking device should be able to read signals from at least four satellites.
In these network circles, each satellite orbits the Earth twice a day while sending across a unique signal, time, and orbital parameters. The GPS tracking device can read signals from six or more satellites at any given point in time.
So, when a GPS device picks up a microwave signal broadcasted by a single satellite, it calculates the distance between the GPS device and the satellite. But, as the GPS can only calculate the distance from a satellite, a single satellite is not enough to provide the required information about the location.
Also, satellites don’t provide any information about the angles, so the location picked by the GPS device could of anywhere on the Earth’s surface area.
Suggested Read: Best Employee Tracking Apps for Android & iPhone 2022
How Does the GPS Track Exact Location?
Well, we are in a three-dimensional world, and the same is used to determine the exact location using GPS. Let’s understand this phenomenon better.
Whenever a signal is sent by satellite, a circle with a radius is created that measures the distance from the GPS tracking device to the particular satellite. Similarly, when a second satellite sends a signal, another circle is created again.
This narrows down the location to one of two points, where the two created by different satellites intersect. Now again when a third satellite also sends a signal, the location of the device can precisely be determined, at the intersection point of all the three circles.
However, because of the three-dimensional world, we can determine that the signals sent by satellites don’t create circles, rather they create spheres. The intersection of these three spheres creates two points of intersection, and the point closest to the Earth is chosen as the GPS location.
Uses of GPS Technology
Today, GPS tracking systems are used by every industry for different purposes. The GPS tracker is used daily for calculating accurate time measurements, location tracking, navigation, and more. Let’s understand the main uses of GPS:
- Location: Helps you in determining a precise position.
- Navigation: Allows you to go from one location to another.
- Tracking: Allows you to continuously monitor a person’s or an object’s movement.
- Mapping: Helps you in creating GPS maps for the world.
- Timing: Enables you to take time measurements very precisely.
Examples of GPS Uses
Emergency Situations: In the time of an emergency or a natural disaster, a GPS tracking system is used by first responders to map, follow, and predict the weather. It also helps in tracking the emergency personnel. It ensures that timely aid is provided to protect people in tough times.
Transportation: While navigating you can use a GPS feature like route optimization that will help you in saving fuel and time. E-commerce organizations, delivery brands, logistics companies, etc., use GPS vehicle tracking systems to ensure timely deliveries and increase productivity.
Health & Fitness: Wearable technology like smart watches track your physical activity such as running. These GPS watches use the GPS tracker to calculate the distance covered while running or walking.
Gaming: GPS tracking is very prominently used in live games. It helps players to collaborate from different countries and play. For example, in the game Pokémon Go, GPS was used to play in various locations.
Military: One of the major uses of GPS is in the Military for navigating, guiding, tracking, and monitoring forces, enemy troops, military assets, and missiles. GPS helps the army to pinpoint locations for air raids and military operations.
Accuracy of GPS Systems
The GPS tracking system allows you to locate, navigate, map, and track various locations, but how accurate is GPS tracker?
The GPS tracker works great in open areas where external factors like tall buildings, trees or buildings don’t create a disturbance. In addition to this, the accuracy of the GPS location depends on several factors and variables as listed below:
Physical Disturbances: The estimated arrival time calculated by the GPS tracking system can be inaccurate due to physical factors such as large mountains, trees, buildings, and more.
Height: GPS can’t determine the height at which the connected device or smartphone is placed.
Weather Conditions: Heavy storms, rains, or solar storms can have a direct effect on GPS tracking systems.
Fault in the Satellite: There may be an obstruction in the orbital model of the satellite that negatively impacts the accuracy of the GPS trackers. However, this scenario is becoming rare now.
Miscalculations: The GPS tracking device may experience fault when the hardware it is used on is not designed to meet the hardware specifications.
External Interferences: The GPS tracking device might face interferences caused due to spoofs or jamming devices.
How to Use Fake GPS?
Users who don’t want to reveal their real location have the option to use fake GPS. To use a fake GPS location, follow the steps below:
- From the Google Play Store, download ‘Fake GPS Location-GPS Joystick’.
- After installing, click on ‘Set Location’, and select the fake location with the help of Longitude and Latitude lines.
- Click on ‘Start > Draw Permission Required > Settings.
- Click on ‘Permit’ option over other apps, and go back to the app.
- Click ‘Start’ to enable your mock location.
- Go to your phone ‘Settings > About’ to find the Build Number, keep tapping on it until you reach the ‘Developer Mode.’
- Go back to ‘Settings > Developer Options, and under the mock location, click on ‘GPS Joystick’.
- Navigate to the ‘GPS Joystick’ app and hit ‘Start’.
An Overview of Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS)
GNSS, the Global Navigation Satellite System broadcasts orbital and timing information with a network of satellites that are used for navigation and determining positioning measurements. This constellation of satellites transmits timing and positioning information to GNSS receivers, which are further used to determine a precise location.
GNSS majorly consists of two segments: Control segment and user segment.
The control segment is a network of monitoring, master control, and data uploading stations that are located across the world. When these stations receive a signal from the satellite, they make a comparison between the positions claimed by the satellite and the orbit models.
Accordingly, at these control stations, the position of satellites to ensure that their orbital path is accurate. The control stations also make sure that the satellite is best at its health to ensure optimum accuracy.
Now, on the other hand, the user segment is made up of the equipment that is responsible for receiving satellite signals. This equipment uses time and orbital location of a minimum of four satellites to determine a position. To resolve and avoid any timing errors, the user segment uses antennas to receive and identify the good-quality signals.
Some examples of GNNS are USA’s NAVSTAR Global Positioning System (GPS), Europe’s Galileo, and China’s BeiDou Navigation Satellite System. Also, globally the performance and efficiency of any GPS system are based on four parameters mentioned below:
GPS vs GNSS Devices Vs GPRS
Here’s the difference between GPS, GNSS and GPRS:
|Global Positioning System||Global Navigation Satellite System||General Packet Radio Service|
|Objective of a GPS tracker is to monitor the movement of a particular vehicle or person.||The objective of GNSS is to track the movement of freight and forecast road networks.||The objective of GPRS is to provide connectionless data service and voice in smart phones and wearables.|
|GPS can be utilized anywhere in smart devices.||GNSS can be utilized for transportation like marine, road, space, etc.||GPRS can be utilized on the land in a limited range.|
|GPS is used in exploration, telecommunications, military, etc.||GNSS is used to collect time, position, and velocity information.||GPRS is used in accessing emails, voice, and video calls.|
|GPS requires 3 or more stations||GNSS requires at least 4 stations.||GPRS requires only one station.|
What are GPS Receiver Chips & Modules?
GPS chips and modules can provide users with instant time and location information anywhere on the Earth. The GPS receiver chips provide information about the location in longitude, latitude, and altitude.
GPS receiver chips are designed to receive information regarding where every satellite is placed at a given moment. These same receivers are used in the GPS system for cars, and GPS system for bikes. They constantly plot the changing location of the car or bike on the electronic map, which then provides directions accordingly to reach the entered destination.
Most of the GPS receiver chips are built on the following three components.
- Antenna: It receives signals and has anti-jamming potential.
- Receiver: It is a processor unit that converts radio signals into a navigation solution.
- Control Unit: It provides an interface for the receiver control. to display the positioning information.
- What do you mean by GPS?
GPS means Global Positioning Systems that provide navigation, positioning, and timing measurements.
- What is the main purpose of GPS?
The main purpose of GPS is to PNT services i.e., positioning, navigation, and timing services. Its structure consists of three segments, space, control, and the user segment.
- How to on GPS on mobile?
To on GPS on mobile, follow these steps:
1. Go to the ‘Settings’ menu.
2. Tap on ‘Location’/ ‘Location Access’/ ‘Location Services’.
3. Now, click on ‘On’ to enable GPS on mobile.
- What is the full form of GPS?
The full form of GPS is Global Positioning System. The GPS system helps in tracking and monitoring the movement of an object or person.
- How to change GPS location on android?
To change GPS location on Android, double tap on the location where you want your GPS to be changed. Then click on the Play button in your bottom right corner. Or you can opt to change your location through a fake GPS app.
- How to turn on GPS on an android phone?
To turn on GPS on an Android phone, go to your ‘Settings’, and switch on the ‘Location’ option.
- What is the use of GPS in smartwatches?
GPS in smartwatches is used to track your running, and walking steps to keep you healthy.
- How to GPS track a phone number?
It is not possible to track someone’s location with their number on Google maps unless they have given you permission to do so.
- How to on GPS in iPhone?
To on GPS on iPhone, go to ‘Settings’, then in the ‘Privacy’ option, go to ‘Location Services’ and switch it on.
- How to track the GPS location of a mobile?
To track the GPS location of a mobile, follow the steps below:
1. Navigate to ‘Android.com/find’.
2. Sign in using your Gmail account and password.
3. Now, on the map, you’ll be able to see your mobile’s approximate location.