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GPS Simplified

written by: Arnold Zafra•edited by: Tricia Goss•updated: 10/22/2010

Still entangled in the web of GPS? Here we give you a quick guide to help you understanding the intricacies of GPS - what it is, how it works, and how important a GPS Receiver is. We will try to explain these concepts as simply as possible.

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    Global Positioning System or GPS is a satellite-based navigation system made up of a network of 24 satellites placed into orbit by the U.S. Department of Defense. It was created to serve military purposes at first, but then in the 1980s the U.S. government made it available for public use. Whether for military or public use, GPS serves one main purpose - navigation.

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    How Does GPS Work?

    It is unavoidable to be technical when describing how GPS works. It is a radio-navigation system consisting of 24 satellites orbiting the earth, and their respective ground stations. To calculate a position, these satellites serve as reference points when calculating positions relative to a matter of meters.

    In other words, GPS triangulates the position of a satellite, its ground station and the area you want to locate. However, this is done in a more scientific and finite measurement of travel time, distance, signal experiences, and atmospheric delays.

    To measure GPS points, you must use a GPS receiver that calculates its position by the signals transmitted to the satellites. These satellites send messages containing information such as the time the message was sent and the satellites orbital information. Once it receives this information, the GPS receiver will then measure the transit time of the sent message and calculate the distance of the GPS receiver to the each of the satellites.

    The location is then displayed through GPS maps.

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    What is a GPS Receiver?

    As stated, GPS is only useful if you have a GPS receiver. Fortunately, there are many GPS receivers on the market. There are important features that you should look for when shopping for a GPS receiver.

    One GPS receiver feature is turn-by-turn navigation, such as driving directions and route instructions. This is a useful feature since it frees your hands while driving, as the GPS receiver gives spoken directions.

    Another feature to look for in a GPS receiver is Bluetooth technology. If you have a Bluetooth, you can practically use the GPS receiver as your mobile phone if you connect it via Bluetooth.

    Other important features that you should look for in a GPS receiver include an integrated traffic receiver, screen size, points of interest, and memory card storage.

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    There are certainly other concepts and jargons that you need to learn before you fully understand the ins and outs of GPS. Other important concepts to look into include geocaching, digital maps, digital mapping, waypoints and other related information. Although knowing these concepts is not essential, it would not hurt to learn them if you are serious about getting into GPS and its components.

    Check out the Bright Hub GPS Navigation Systems channel for tutorials and articles on these topics and more.