Today, over 81% of Americans own smartphones, which are basically powerful little computers.

This means the days of using navigation devices like TomTom in your car are long over. Instead, we simply plug in a destination on Google Maps and instantly get easy directions.

This is thanks to something called GNSS.

What is GNSS, anyway? And how is it different from GPS? Read on to find out.

Global Navigation Satellite System

“GNSS” stands for “Global Navigation Satellite System.” This is a system that utilizes satellites in space.

These satellites give the user exact positioning and timing information. To receive this information, you have to be using a GNSS receiver. For more info, check out GNSS specifications.

Some examples of GNSS are Navstar Global Positioning System (US), Galileo (EU), and Global’naya Navigatsionnaya Sputnikovaya Sistema, or GLONASS (RUS).

What’s highly advantageous about GNSS is that not only does it give you accurate information, but it has global coverage as well.

How Does GNSS Work?

We know that GNSS uses satellites in the sky, but how exactly does it work to give you accurate geospatial positioning?

First, they work through what’s called constellations. Like with stars, these satellites are scattered about, but in a strategic way. That way, they can have optimal coverage for different orbital planes through overlaps.

While each satellite constellation will be slightly different, on average, they’ll have orbital periods of 12 hours and will have an altitude of 12,000 miles.

With things like phones and other consumer devices, only 1 frequency is used for GNSS. But for industrial uses, receivers can use multiple frequencies for increased accuracy and reliability.

What Is GNSS Used For?

Considering that GNSS has high precision location powers, it’s naturally used in many applications.

For example, GNSS is used for things like:

  • Satellite navigation in cars
  • Air navigation
  • Industrial machines
  • Sea vessels

That’s right, you’ve guessed it! Your phone uses whatever GNSS is inside it to power things like Find My iPhone and Google Maps!

In the future, we can expect GNSS to be used for anti-spoofing. This will help battle the increasing amounts of cyber crime.


Most people use GNSS and GPS synonymously. But there are actually some differences between them.

As you might’ve noticed in the list above, the US uses something called the Navstar Global Positioning System. If you take a closer look at the name, Global Positioning System stands for “GPS.”

As you can see, GPS is a type of GNSS. However, not all GNSS applications are GPS, which is evident by the example list.

Now You Know What GNSS Is

Now you know the answer to the question, “what is GNSS?” Not only that, but you also can differentiate betweeN GNSS and GPS.

So put this trivia to use and impress your friends the next time they talk about GPS!

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