Understanding How GPS Works

Aug 22, 2008

GPS is very common place today, yet many of us don't even understand how it works. In fact, a lot of people don't even know what GPS stands for, all they know is how to use it. The term GPS refers to a technology that is also known as Global Positioning System. GPS has become more and more refined over the years, providing consumers with the ability to get from point A to point B much more easily than they had in the past. In fact, paper maps are quickly becoming obsolete.

The Way GPS Works

All GPS units work using the same technology. GPS units get all of their data from orbiting satellites and information about time and position is transmitted from these satellites to the GPS unit. These satellites can communicate with units on the land, in the air, and on the sea. These units are able to calculate where they are located at any one time based on the information that they receive from the satellites. Theoretically, GPS systems can work all around the world.

Of course, for the GPS unit to work as accurately as possible the unit must be able to have a direct line of sight to at least three satellites in the sky. Many people have found that if they are camping, hiking, or driving in an area where they are in deep canyons or surrounded by rock that it becomes very difficult to get a signal, and so the GPS unit may not work at all or it may not work as well as one would think. On the flip side, if you are in the line of sight of more than three satellites the GPS unit will be very accurate, often able to place you within 15 to 20 feet of your actual location!

Many people believe that to make the most of the GPS technology they have to buy the most expensive unit on the market, but this is not necessarily true. All of the units use the same technology, the more expensive units usually just have more bells and whistles such as more user friendly interfaces and touch screen displays. You can buy a very basic GPS unit that will get you around town and on your short trips without a hitch, but if you need a GPS unit that will help you with complicated routes you may want to go with something more costly.