What Is GPS? Global Positioning Systems Explained
Menu Close
What Is GPS? Global Positioning Systems Explained
AndrewMarch 13, 2023Gps tracking

What Is GPS? Global Positioning Systems Explained

GPS, also known as the Global Positioning System, is a satellite-based navigation system that provides the user’s exact location and time information anywhere on or near the Earth’s surface. Initially intended for military purposes only, the United States Department of Defence developed GPS. Still, it has also been made available to the general public.

The GPS consists of a network of satellites in orbit around the Earth, ground control stations, and GPS receivers that can pick up signals from the satellites. The receiver uses the signals from multiple satellites to triangulate its position and calculate its location, speed, and direction of travel. 

GPS accuracy can vary depending on several factors, such as the number of visible satellites, the quality of the receiver, and the terrain and weather conditions.

We can use GPS for a wide range of applications, such as navigation in cars, boats, and airplanes, location tracking of people and vehicles, surveying and mapping, search and rescue operations, and scientific research.

The Past, Present, and Future of GPS

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a satellite-based navigation system that allows users to determine their precise location, velocity, and time. GPS was developed by the United States Department of Defense in the 1970s and 1980s as a tool for military navigation and became fully operational in 1995.

Using satellites for navigation was first proposed in the early 1960s by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). At the time, the only navigation system used ground-based radio beacons with limited range and accuracy. The researchers realized that satellites could provide an exact global navigation system.

In 1973, the US Department of Defense began developing the GPS. The system consisted of a constellation of 24 satellites orbiting the Earth, each with a highly accurate atomic clock. GPS receivers on the ground could use signals from at least four satellites to calculate their precise location.

The first GPS satellite was launched in 1978, and by the mid-1980s, the US military put the system into use. In the 1990s, the US government made GPS available for civilian use, and the system became widely adopted for navigation, surveying, and other applications.

Today, GPS is used for various purposes, such as navigation for vehicles, ships, and airplanes, surveying and mapping, search and rescue operations, and even in equipment for sports and fitness. The system has become an essential part of modern life, and its accuracy and reliability continue to improve with ongoing technological advancements.

How does GPS Work?

GPS (Global Positioning System) is a technology that allows users to pinpoint their exact location on Earth. It operates via satellites orbiting the Earth, ground control stations, and GPS receivers.

The GPS consists of at least 24 satellites orbiting the Earth, each with a unique identification number and a precise orbit. These satellites transmit radio signals that are received by GPS receivers on the ground.

When a GPS receiver receives signals from at least four satellites, a process known as triangulation allows it to calculate its precise location. The GPS receiver calculates its distance from each satellite by determining how long signals travel from the satellite to the receiver. The GPS receiver can pinpoint its exact location on Earth by comparing its distance from satellites to other satellites.

Moreover, GPS uses ground control stations to monitor and manage the satellites in orbit. The ground control stations ensure the satellites’ precise positioning, feeding them regularly updated navigational data.

Many uses for GPS technology exist, ranging from car navigation to tracking wildlife movements. It has completely changed how we travel through and investigate our surroundings.

Present-Day Implementation of GPS

Various tasks, including timing, navigation, mapping, and surveying, have been performed using GPS services for over 30 years.

Currently, 24 satellites are being used to implement GPS, and they orbit the Earth at a distance of about 20,200 km. These satellites, which the US Air Force manages, are dispersed across six different orbital planes and contain four satellites apiece.

GPS receivers use these satellites’ signals to pinpoint their location, velocity, and time. To determine its location on the surface of the Earth, a GPS receiver collects signals from at least four satellites.

Also, the GPS offers accurate timing data, which is necessary for various tasks, such as telephony, power grid synchronization, and financial transactions.

Current GPS systems are incredibly accurate and may offer location data with a few meters of accuracy. They are excellent for various applications, including navigation, tracking, and monitoring, because they can track real-time motions.

Other satellite navigation systems, such as GLONASS (Russia), BeiDou (China), and Galileo (EU), in addition to the original GPS, can offer capabilities similar to those of GPS and can be used in conjunction with GPS to improve accuracy and dependability.

Some Uses Of GPS

GPS has many applications in various fields, from navigation to entertainment. Some of these uses are listed below:-

GPS in Navigation

There are several uses for the GPS (Global Positioning System) in navigation, including:

  • Vehicle navigation: We frequently use GPS to navigate cars, trucks, and other vehicles. Drivers can use it to identify the quickest route to their destination, avoid gridlock, and find local landmarks like eateries, petrol stations, and tourist attractions.
  • Marine navigation: To locate themselves and traverse the vast seas, boats and ships utilize GPS. Long-distance vessels can benefit significantly from this technology to avoid dangerous places like reefs and shallow waters.
  • Aviation navigation: Pilots may identify their location, altitude, speed, and direction using GPS, widely used in aircraft for navigation and guidance. GPS technology has increased aviation safety and made it simpler for pilots to navigate in challenging weather circumstances.

GPS in Agriculture

The Global Positioning System (GPS) has several applications in agriculture. These are a few instances:

  • Precision farming: GPS enables farmers to map their fields and collect information on crop yield, nutrient levels, and soil moisture. Making decisions on the location and timing of crop planting, fertilization, and harvesting can then be done using this data.
  • Guiding and steering: GPS can precisely direct farm machinery through fields, including tractors and combines. When planting, spraying, or harvesting, farmers can minimize overlapping and missing areas by doing this.
  • Crop scouting: We can use GPS to find fields and scout crops. This method entails physically going through the areas to spot and monitor any potential crop issues, such as pests or diseases.

GPS in Mapping and Surveying

By capturing geographical data, GPS may produce precise maps of a region. This data can comprise the coordinates of real-world things like roads, buildings, and bodies of water. Surveyors can use GPS to produce precise maps that precisely depict the topography and terrain of a specific location. Surveyors can use GPS to measure angles, elevations, and distances exactly. As a result, surveyors can produce intricate maps and carry out detailed land surveys.

A wide range of applications, including urban planning, environmental management, and civil engineering projects, need more precise maps and surveys, which surveyors and cartographers can produce using GPS.

GPS in Entertainment

To improve the users’ overall experience, GPS technology in entertainment spans several genres. These are a few instances:

  • Geocaching: Geocaching is a real-world treasure-hunting game that involves the use of GPS-enabled devices to navigate to specific coordinates and find hidden containers known as caches. The GPS coordinates are provided on a website or through a mobile app, which helps players locate the stocks.
  • Pokémon Go: Using GPS technology, Pokémon Go creates a virtual world where players can capture Pokémon creatures in actual locations.

GPS in Search and Rescue

The GPS is a valuable instrument in search and rescue efforts. It enables search and rescue personnel to locate themselves and find a missing person or group. The following are some applications of GPS in search and rescue:

  • Location Determination: GPS devices are capable of pinpointing the user’s location. It enables rescuers to precisely plan a search and identify their location on a map.
  • Tracking: Using GPS technology, we can track the whereabouts of rescuers and follow missing people. It enables search teams to monitor their progress and ensure they have searched everywhere.
  • Coordination: Search activities by various teams can be coordinated using GPS devices. It guarantees effective and efficient utilization of resources.

GPS in Fleet Management

A vital part of modern fleet management systems is GPS technology. Fleet managers use GPS to track the whereabouts and motions of the vehicles in their fleet, delivering real-time data on the location, speed, and status of each vehicle. Fleet managers can use this data to monitor driver behavior, schedule, and route vehicles efficiently, and enhance the operation of their entire fleet.

Matrack, a leading provider of GPS tracking solutions, is a pioneer in developing FMS solutions that leverage GPS technology to give fleet managers the tools they need to optimize their operations. The various uses of GPS in FMS by Matrack are:-

  • Vehicle tracking

One of the essential applications of GPS in FMS is vehicle tracking. GPS Tracking devices installed in vehicles provide real-time location data transmitted to the FMS software. Using this information, fleet managers can monitor the movements of their fleet and ensure they are on schedule. They can also use this information to optimize routes, reduce fuel consumption and improve overall efficiency.

  • Geo-fencing

Fleet managers can use the geofencing feature to set virtual boundaries around specific locations on a map. The fleet manager receives an alert when a vehicle enters or leaves the specified area. This feature helps track vehicle movements in restricted areas such as construction sites or high-security areas.

  • Route improvement

Matrack’s FMS uses GPS technology, which also enables route optimization. Fleet managers can use the system to study traffic patterns, road conditions, and other elements to find the best route for each vehicle. It can shorten delivery times, minimize maintenance costs and reduce fuel consumption.

  • Observation of driving behavior

GPS tracking systems can collect information about a driver’s speed, acceleration, and braking behavior. Using this data, fleet managers can identify risky driving behavior and advise drivers on developing better driving habits. Fleet managers can minimize insurance costs, increase overall safety, and reduce the likelihood of accidents by changing their drivers’ behavior.

  • Maintenance planning

Matrack’s FMS uses GPS technology, which also enables proactive maintenance planning. The system can track vehicle performance data, including engine hours, mileage, and fuel consumption. Preventive maintenance, such as tire rotations and oil changes, can be scheduled using this data before they become urgent. It can reduce downtime and costly breakdowns.

Benefits of GPS Technology in FMS

A fleet management system is a software program that helps companies manage their fleets more effectively. Fleet managers can use this system to obtain insightful information that helps them make data-driven decisions that improve fleet performance, reduce costs, and increase overall safety. Companies that rely heavily on their vehicles, such as delivery services, logistics companies, and transportation companies, can benefit the most from the system.

The use of GPS in fleet management systems offers several advantages, including:

  • Route optimization:- GPS enables fleet managers to optimize routes for their vehicles. It helps reduce fuel costs, improve delivery times, and increase productivity.
  • Real-time location tracking:- Fleet managers can track the location of their vehicles in real time with these trackers. It helps them monitor their fleet’s movements and ensure they are efficient. 
  • Monitoring Driver Performance: GPS can also monitor driver performance, including speed, braking, and acceleration. Fleet managers can use this information to identify and correct problems with driver behavior that could impact fleet safety or efficiency.
  • Improved customer service:- With GPS, fleet managers can provide their customers with more accurate and up-to-date information about the location and the estimated time of arrival of their vehicles. It can help improve customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Future of GPS in the Trucking Business

The Global Positioning System (GPS), which allows for real-time vehicle tracking, improved route optimization, and increased logistical efficiency, has revolutionized the transportation business. GPS can benefit the trucking industry in the following ways:

  • Increased adoption of GPS-enabled Telematics:- We may anticipate a wider uptake of GPS-enabled telematics by trucking companies as these systems become more advanced and cost-effective. These systems can give trucking businesses access to information to plan routes, track driver conduct, and enhance fuel efficiency.
  • Integration with other technologies:- To build more effective and secure supply chains, GPS is likely to be merged with other cutting-edge technologies like machine learning, artificial intelligence, and blockchain. For instance, GPS data can improve delivery timetables, forecast maintenance requirements, and spot potential security risks.
  • Adoption of autonomous vehicles:- In the future, we might see a growth in driverless trucks. For these vehicles to navigate securely and efficiently, GPS will be crucial.
  • Increasing emphasis on sustainability:- People’s awareness of environmental issues will cause the trucking sector to focus more on sustainability. Trucking businesses may reduce fuel usage, optimize routes, and cut down on idle time with the help of GPS, which can help with this.

What is GNSS? Does GPS have Competitors?

The global navigation satellite system is known as GNSS. It is a network of satellites, receivers, and ground stations that provides accurate position, navigation, and timing information anywhere on or in Earth’s orbit. The Global Positioning System (GPS), operated by the US government, is the best-known GNSS.

There are several GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) choices for locating oneself and navigating. The following are a few of the most notable GPS rivals:

  1. GLONASS:- GLONASS (Global Navigation Satellite System) is a Russian alternative to GPS that uses a similar constellation of satellites to carry out its operations. GLONASS offers worldwide coverage, and Russia and its neighbors usually retort to using GLONASS
  2. Galileo:- Galileo is a global navigation satellite system (GNSS) developed by the European Union (EU) to compete with GPS. When compared to GPS, Galileo offers more precision and dependability and is now in service.
  3. BeiDOU:- Chinese satellite navigation system called BeiDou offers positioning, time, and short messaging services. It covers China and the adjacent areas and plans to increase its reach internationally.
  4. QZSS:- The QZSS (Quasi-Zenith Satellite System) is a regional satellite navigation system developed by Japan to enhance GPS coverage throughout the country and its surroundings.
  5. IRNSS:- IRNSS is an Indian satellite navigation system that provides positioning, navigation, and timing services in India and the surrounding region.

Similar to GPS, these systems use satellites to deliver location and navigational information to users on the ground.


GPS has completely transformed how we navigate and experience the world. GPS technology has become an indispensable part of our daily lives, directing us on road trips and assisting us in navigating unknown territory. It’s interesting to consider what new developments and opportunities GPS will see as technology advances. But one thing is sure: GPS will continue to be an essential tool for explorers, travelers, and adventurers, allowing us to confidently and efficiently discover new locations and experiences. Please remember to thank GPS for directing you on your path, whether traveling to work or hiking through the mountains.

Please don't forget to share

twitter linkedin facebook pinterest