How Do GPS Devices Work?

How Do GPS Devices Work? We all love that little blue dot on our cell phone map that shows us exactly where we are. But have you ever wondered how it all works? 

In today’s world, so long as you have a GPS device, it’s almost impossible to get lost. Thanks to the advances in technology, we can discover our precise location in a mere instant. This article explains how GPS devices work, so you can appreciate them even more the next time you use one.

Table of Contents

How Do GPS Devices Work?

Satellite in orbit above the earth

Satellite in orbit above the Earth

GPS devices are generally portable units that enable you to track and monitor your current location via satellite connection. They must connect with a minimum of three satellites to utilize a process known as “trilateration”. Once connected, it calculates the distance between the device and the satellites – thus pinpointing the location on Earth. 

Some devices use assisted GPS. This means that they rely on additional data alongside satellite signals to determine exactly where you are. The extra data often comes from Wi-Fi networks and cell phone towers that broadcast signals to the GPS device. This information is then received and analyzed with satellite signals to triangulate your coordinates. 

How Do GPS Systems Work?

The GPS (Global Positioning System) comprises a worldwide network of 31 satellites that transmit radio signals back to Earth. The GPS satellite network was originally developed and operated by the United States. 

However, there are also other satellite constellations in space that have a similar purpose. These are collectively known as the Global Navigation Satellite System or GNSS and consist of systems from Russia, China, and the European Union. 

The satellite signals are sent to Earth and picked up by GPS receivers which collate the data to work out a particular location based on the distance and time that passed since the release of the signal.

The device must receive four separate satellites to accurately determine your location.

How Does a GPS Receiver Work?

GPS receivers are designed to receive information from satellite signals that pinpoint where that particular satellite is at a certain moment in time. It then uses this data to calculate the device’s location on the planet. 

The radio waves emitted by the satellites travel at a continuous speed. Therefore, GPS receivers measure the amount of time it has taken for each satellite signal to arrive at the device and then calculate the distance and as a result, the location based on this data. 

How Do GPS Jammers Work?

Wrong way sign

GPS jammers are compact and self-contained devices that hide your location. They do this by emitting radio signals at the same frequency as a GPS device. When this happens, the interference overwhelms the GPS receiver, so it is unable to calculate its position. 

However, it’s important to note that GPS jammers are illegal in many countries due to the disruption they can cause to navigation and aviation. 

How Does GPS Navigation Work?

A GPS handheld device placed onto a paper map

A GPS handheld device placed onto a paper map

As a GPS device uses location information from at least 4 satellites. It is the most accurate method of navigation used anywhere across the globe. 

The GPS receiver calculates the location and continuously plots its ever-moving position onto a digital map – therefore providing a reliable location at any given time, alongside turn-by-turn directions to your chosen destination. 

This is what your automobile GPS system uses to guide you wherever you wish to travel. It is also useful for those who like to take hikes out in the wilderness off the beaten track, aviation, and marine navigation

You can also use GPS navigation without any Wi-Fi or cellular signal, so long as the map used is an offline version.



Man holding GPS device in woodland and pointing ahead

Man holding GPS device in woodland and pointing ahead

What are GPS Devices Used For?

GPS devices have a vast range of applications. You can use them for location tracking, asset tracking, transportation, mapping and surveying, navigation, law enforcement, aviation, time zone monitoring, hiking, fishing, and for health and fitness products. 

Are GPS Devices Accurate?

GPS devices are incredibly accurate. Due to the way they work, they can continue to provide positioning information even in cramped environments such as heavy tree cover or tall buildings. In some cases, atmospheric issues or conflicting signals may affect accuracy, but most GPS devices will provide a precise location within a 10-meter radius. 

Can I Use GPS Without Cell Phone Data?

Yes, it is possible to use GPS without a cell phone data connection. If you are using the GPS capability on your cell phone, location information is received from satellites. 

Therefore, so long as you have an offline map, you can use GPS to find your location and navigate. However, you will not get any live updates regarding traffic flow or road closures. 


Satellite in space

Satellite in space

GPS (Global Positioning System) devices use signals from a global network of orbiting satellites to determine your location accurately. They are used for various purposes, from navigation and tracking to leisure activities and surveying. 

The GPS receiver picks up the radio frequencies from at least four satellites and calculates the time that has passed since they were emitted. It then uses this data to determine a precise location. 

GPS jammers can interfere with signals and disrupt accuracy, but they are illegal in many countries due to the widespread disruption and safety issues they can cause.

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