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Comparing GPS and GLONASS navigation satellite systems


GLONASS and GPS are satellite systems that were initially developed for military purposes. Gradually, they were transferred to civilian use for determining coordinates via navigation programs. 

The GPS system has been available worldwide for quite a long time and had no counterparts until 2000. Later, a Russian alternative, i.e. the GLONASS system, entered the navigation market. It's actively updated and is currently a direct competitor to American development.

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Main differences between GLONASS and GPS

Both satellite systems differ in their parameters:

  • Satellites number. Navigation data is collected and transmitted using 24 satellites placed in orbit in both systems. In case of unexpected failures in the main satellites, several backup devices have been put into orbit. The main difference between GLONASS and GPS is that if necessary, the US can expand the number of active satellites to 48, but the Russian system doesn't provide such a possibility.
  • Satellites location. GPS is based on 6 planes; each plane includes 4 devices. Satellites rotate with the Earth. In GLONASS, rotation occurs regardless of the movement of the Earth, 8 satellites are located in three planes.
  • Signal transmission frequency. Different frequencies separate all signals transmitted by satellite equipment to avoid conflicts. However, some frequencies of American GPS equipment are as close as possible to GLONASS frequencies.

These are the main differences between GLONASS and GPS. In other parameters, the equipment works on a similar principle and has approximately the same technical characteristics.

Comparing GPS and GLONASS features

GPS is a satellite navigation system developed by the U.S. military with its main features being as follows:

  • Drawing up a travel route. Just enter the destination point of your course on the receiver so that the equipment generates the way.
  • Voice prompts. Along your way, especially if you're driving, you can avoid being distracted by a navigation app since all traffic tips are carried out in voice mode.
  • Access to detailed maps of an area via navigation apps (such as Waze, and others).

The principle of GLONASS operation and its functionality are similar to GPS, but much depends on the hardware you use. To be exact, navigation apps accept, analyse and convert information from satellites into a user-friendly form.

Positioning signal accuracy

The accuracy of determining GPS coordinates is higher due to the lower error in signal transmission. The location of a point in the GLONASS system is determined with an accuracy of 3-6 meters, while the GPS system has an indicator of about 2-4 meters. If the equipment allows you to use two satellite systems at once, the error is reduced to 1-3 meters. As a result, the accuracy of determining the user's current position increases.

The GLONASS system has a technology in stock that allows you to reduce the error up to 10 centimetres. Hardware developers promise to reduce the margin of error to a minimum in 2020.

There is another significant drawback of GLONASS: the signals transmitted by satellite equipment are unavailable in all parts of the world. This disadvantage can also be corrected by building new substations, implementing new technological solutions, and so on.

Most modern manufacturers of satellite equipment give their devices the ability to connect to two satellite systems at once; as a result, all the disadvantages of GLONASS and GPS are covered. Currently, the most promising direction for the development of navigation equipment is to adapt to the support of two satellite systems at once.

The advantages of using GLONASS and GPS simultaneously

When using the American and Russian navigation systems at the same time, it is possible to achieve a number of the following significant advantages:

  • High accuracy in determining the user's location. The equipment collecting and analysing the data from the satellite selects the most accurate parameters. The systems guarantee different accuracy depending on where the person resides. For example, in Moscow, GPS will work more effectively, and in Murmansk, it's better to determine your coordinates using the GLONASS system.
  • Reliability of the acquired data. At some points, there is deliberate jamming of the data stream. As a result, the GPS equipment no longer receives correct information. In such cases, your navigation app automatically switches to GLONASS, and you have no problems with navigating.
  • Equipment independence. Both navigation systems are long-term military developments; as a result, ordinary users often face the problem with access to an unavailable network. If GPS is unavailable in Russia, you can easily connect to GLONASS and continue using the equipment until access is restored.

When it's best to use GLONASS 

The choice of a suitable satellite system directly depends on the region of your location. If you mostly move around within the Northern regions, we strongly recommend giving preference to GLONASS, since most of the signal reception points are located in these latitudes.

Accordingly, the operation of GPS is stable and accurate in Europe and the United States.

Ilia is a professional writer. He has expert knowledge in GPS and cartography with 15 years of experience. Additionally, Ilia has extensive experience in data recovery on PC and mobile. He started his career as a journalist by reviewing PC and mobile apps. His current responsibilities are to keep track of users' questions on MGT and answer them.