GNSS Guides: Is GNSS the Same as GPS?

We don’t give it much thought, but the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) has become part of our everyday lives. How? It’s used in everything from our smartphones and watches to car navigation systems and airplanes.

The term GNSS is often used interchangeably with the Global Positioning System (GPS), but they aren’t the same thing.

What is GNSS? What is the difference between GNSS vs GPS? How do they work?


There are several satellite navigation systems orbiting the earth. They continuously send signals to electronic receivers in any weather conditions. These positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) signals provide global coverage. That enables location-based devices around the world with GNSS capabilities to determine their position.

GNSS refers to the whole group of satellite systems, whereas GPS refers to one specific set of satellites. The US Department of Defence put the GPS into operation in 1978 for military use, although it is now also used for civilian devices.

The GPS is the most used GNSS in the world.

Other GNSS systems include Russia’s GLONASS, Europe’s Galileo, and China’s BeiDou. Japan’s Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS) and the Navigation Indian Constellation (NavIC) use geostationary satellites to supplement the GPS to enhance GNSS performance nearby. This enables application developers to use a wider range of signals.

How Do GNSS Systems Work?

There are three parts to GNSS systems, like the GPS. In space, the satellites send signals towards the earth. On the ground, control stations track the satellites, verify their signals, and send information to users. GNSS or GPS receivers calculate their position based on the data signals. How?

The signals contain the satellite’s orbit details with a precise timestamp. The receiver determines the time that the signal was sent and calculates the satellite’s location, adjusting for accurate positioning.

The difference between the time the satellite sends the signal and the time the device receives the signal allows the receiver to calculate its position in relation to the satellite.

The receiver can then calculate its own position from the earth’s coordinates. GNSS signals are useful for any applications that need precise location and timing data. This includes transportation, marine and vehicle navigation, agriculture, sport, and mobile communication.

The newest mobile devices enable developers to use raw GNSS measurement data in their apps, rather than using positions that the GNSS hardware calculates. If you use a location-based app on Android, the device will cycle the GNSS hardware on and off to save battery power. This results in choppy data results.

To keep the hardware running all the time, you can turn on the “Force full GNSS measurements” option in the system settings.

GNSS Navigation Apps Extend Beyond GPS

GPS was the first type of GNSS, so the term is often used to describe any satellite navigation system. The addition of other GNSS systems around the world has improved the performance of location-based devices. Whether we are traveling long distances or going for a run in the local park, GNSS has become part of our daily lives.

Now you know the difference between GNSS vs GPS, check out the technology section of our blog for more informative articles.

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