How Does GPS Work on Mobile Phones?

Written by jacquelyn jeanty
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How Does GPS Work on Mobile Phones?

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GPS technology is one of the latest and greatest developments within the communications world. Also known as a "global positioning system," this technology works off of radio signals sent out by satellites in space. Since a cell phone already works like a two-way radio when communicating with cell towers, the GPS capability simply extends the radio signal reach to space satellites. Most of today's mobile phones already have GPS capabilities which enable them to be located by Emergency Response Teams through a 911 call. Phones equipped with full-featured capabilities work off of Java-based programs and have database access to their provider's system. Location tracking, and giving directions to and from destinations are some of the more common uses for this technology. The actual receiver device can be located inside the phone itself, or use a wireless, Bluetooth connection. In order for navigation-related information to be transmitted, users must have a calling plan that supports the transmission of maps and supporting data.

How Does GPS Work on Mobile Phones?


GPS navigational systems are supported by a network of 27 satellites. These satellites orbit the Earth in cyclic patterns 24 hours a day. At any given time, a minimum of four satellites signals is accessible to any one point on Earth. Whenever a receiver device is activated, radio waves are sent out. This is how satellites know to start tracking the device. A receiver's exact location is determined through a process called trilateration where three satellites work together to narrow down possible location points, while a fourth satellite compiles the data and decides on a match. Distance calculations are made based on how long it takes the radio signals to travel back and forth between receiver and satellites. The mapping capabilities are displayed on the phone's screen via the cellular provider's database. The accuracy of these maps depends on how frequently your provider updates their database.

How Does GPS Work on Mobile Phones?

Assisted GPS

In order for a GPS device to work, there must be a clear line of sight between the receiver and the sky. As this is not always the case, it's not uncommon for no signal information, or inaccurate signal information to travel between satellites and receiver devices. Using your mobile phone inside a building, beneath trees, or nearby a tall building may cause these problems to occur. Assisted GPS is an improved technology that utilises a cellular network's assistance server which is connected to a reference network. Through the use of cell towers, a phone relays satellite signal information to the server. These servers are able to process incoming data at much higher rates than GPS receivers, so information is transmitted quicker, and is typically more accurate than what a receiver can relay on its own.

How Does GPS Work on Mobile Phones?

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