How Does GPS Work?

What exactly is GPS and how does it work? How does your smartphone or tablet use GPS? Tech Talker gives you the rundown on the Global Positioning System and how your smartphone or tablet always knows where you are.

Eric Escobar
4-minute read
Episode #157

An interesting fact about GPS satellites is that it's a one way communication. While they constantly send signals, they do not typically receive any signals from your device. There are some exceptions for military and special communications, but nothing a typical smartphone or tablet would have.

This means that if you are using just the GPS on a device, there is no way for someone to track that device. It’s kind of like listening to the radio. You are simply listening to radio waves being emitted in every direction. There’s no way to tell who's listening and who’s not.

GPS and Your Smartphone or Tablet

OK, now that you know everything you wanted to know about GPS, let's talk about how your smartphone or tablet uses this technology.

The way your phone or tablet locates itself is only partially due to GPS. When your device is connected to the cellular network, it downloads information about all of the satellites on your side of the globe and exactly where they are in the sky. This allows your phone to lock onto each satellite's location in seconds rather than minutes!

See Also: How Does Your Smartphone Communicate


In addition to GPS, your phone also uses the cellular network and nearby wireless networks to help locate your device. These allow your device to locate you more accurately than if you were just using the GPS network by itself. It's amazing that with all of these methods of location tracking, you can now accurately locate your position almost anywhere using only a smartphone or tablet.

Location is only half the game though. This information may not do a whole lot of good if you can't reference it to a map. In the early days of GPS, you would need a physical map to go with your GPS device. Thankfully, now our devices automatically download maps to make this process even easier.

Hopefully now you realize how amazing it is that your phone can help you navigate almost anywhere in the world!

Well, that’s it for today! Be sure to check out all my earlier episodes at quickanddirtytips.com/techtalker. And if you have further questions about this podcast or want to make a suggestion for a future episode, post them on Facebook.com/QDTtechtalker.

Until next time, I’m the Tech Talker, keeping technology simple!


About the Author

Eric Escobar

Tech Talker demystifies technology and cutting edge devices so that even the most tech illiterate can understand what's going on with their computer or gadget — and what to do when something goes wrong.

You May Also Like...