What’s The Difference Between GPS And GLONASS?

Have you ever wondered about the dissimilarities between GPS and GLONASS? Both these navigation systems play a crucial role in determining locations and providing accurate directions. While they may seem similar, there are key disparities that set them apart. In this article, we will explore the dissimilarities between GPS and GLONASS, giving you a better understanding of how these technologies work and which one might be the best fit for your needs. So, sit back, relax, and let’s dive into the world of navigation systems!


In today’s world, navigation has become an integral part of our daily lives. Whether it’s finding the shortest route to a destination or tracking the location of a loved one, we rely on Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) to provide us with accurate location data. Two of the most popular GNSS systems are the Global Positioning System (GPS) and the Globalnaya Navigatsionnaya Sputnikovaya Sistema (GLONASS). Both these systems have revolutionized the way we navigate, but what are the differences between GPS and GLONASS? In this article, we will explore the basic definitions and concepts of GPS and GLONASS, delve into their respective histories and developments, compare their satellite constellations, analyze signal frequencies and accuracy, discuss global coverage and availability, take a close look at the number of satellites in each system, examine their use cases and applications, and finally, look into the future advancements and integration of other systems.

1. Introduction to GPS and GLONASS

GPS is a satellite-based navigation system that provides location and time information anywhere on Earth. It is operated by the United States government and consists of a network of satellites in medium Earth orbit. GLONASS, on the other hand, is a Russian space-based navigation system that provides similar services. Both GPS and GLONASS use a constellation of satellites to provide coverage and accurate positioning.

2. Basic Definitions and Concepts

2.1 GPS

GPS stands for Global Positioning System and consists of a constellation of 24 satellites, as well as ground control stations and user receivers. These satellites orbit the Earth at an altitude of approximately 20,000 kilometers and transmit signals that are received by GPS receivers on the ground. The GPS system works by triangulating the signals received from multiple satellites to determine the receiver’s precise location.


GLONASS, which stands for Globalnaya Navigatsionnaya Sputnikovaya Sistema, is Russia’s equivalent to GPS. It consists of a constellation of 24 operational satellites, along with ground control stations and user receivers. Similar to GPS, GLONASS works by using trilateration to determine an accurate position. However, GLONASS satellites are positioned at a slightly lower altitude compared to GPS satellites.

3. History and Development

3.1 GPS

The development of GPS began in the 1970s by the United States Department of Defense. Initially intended for military use, GPS was later made available for civilian applications as well. The system became fully operational in 1994, and since then, it has undergone several upgrades and advancements to improve its accuracy and reliability.


GLONASS was developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s as a response to GPS. It was primarily used for military purposes until the mid-1990s when the Russian government made it available for civilian use. However, due to funding issues, GLONASS faced difficulties and a decrease in the number of operational satellites. In recent years, Russia has made significant efforts to revitalize and improve the GLONASS system.

4. Satellite Constellation

4.1 GPS Constellation

The GPS constellation consists of 24 operational satellites, evenly distributed across six orbital planes. These satellites orbit the Earth at an angle of approximately 55 degrees relative to the Equator. The GPS satellites are designed to have a lifespan of about 10 years, after which they are replaced by newer ones to maintain the system’s functionality.

4.2 GLONASS Constellation

Similar to GPS, the GLONASS constellation also consists of 24 operational satellites, but these are organized into three orbital planes with eight satellites in each plane. The inclination angle of the GLONASS satellites is approximately 65 degrees, which makes them more suitable for higher latitudes. Like the GPS satellites, GLONASS satellites have an expected lifespan of around 10 years.

4.3 Differences in Satellites

Although both GPS and GLONASS use satellites for navigation, there are some key differences in their design and signal frequencies. GPS satellites transmit signals on two frequencies: L1 (1575.42 MHz) and L2 (1227.60 MHz). On the other hand, GLONASS satellites transmit signals on two frequencies: L1 (1602.00 MHz) and L2 (1246.00 MHz). This difference in frequencies allows for greater accuracy and reliability in positioning when using both systems together.

5. Signal Frequencies and Accuracy

5.1 GPS Frequencies

The GPS system operates on two main frequency bands: L1 and L2. The L1 frequency is used for civilian applications and provides a standard accuracy of approximately 5 to 10 meters. The L2 frequency, on the other hand, is reserved for military use and provides higher accuracy levels.

5.2 GLONASS Frequencies

GLONASS satellites also operate on two main frequency bands: L1 and L2. The L1 frequency is used for civilian applications and provides a similar accuracy to GPS, around 5 to 10 meters. The L2 frequency is intended for military use and offers higher accuracy.

5.3 Accuracy Comparison

When comparing the accuracy of GPS and GLONASS, it largely depends on the number of satellites in view and the specific receiver being used. In general, both systems can provide similar levels of accuracy for civilian use. However, integrating signals from both GPS and GLONASS can lead to increased accuracy and reliability, especially in challenging environments with obstructed views of the sky.

6. Coverage and Availability

6.1 Global Coverage

Both GPS and GLONASS offer global coverage, meaning they can provide navigation services in any part of the world. The global coverage ensures that users can rely on these systems whether they are trekking through remote wilderness areas or navigating through bustling city streets.

6.2 Availability in Different Regions

While both systems offer global coverage, there may be variations in the availability of satellites depending on the region. In some regions, such as high latitudes, GLONASS might have better availability due to its higher inclination angle. However, GPS tends to have better availability in urban or densely populated areas, as the United States has deployed additional ground-based augmentation systems to enhance the performance of GPS.

7. Number of Satellites

7.1 GPS Satellites

GPS consists of a constellation of 24 operational satellites. There are also additional satellites in reserve and undergoing testing, which can be brought into service if required. The number of operational satellites ensures that a sufficient number of satellites are available for accurate positioning and navigation.

7.2 GLONASS Satellites

Similar to GPS, GLONASS also has a constellation of 24 operational satellites. However, maintaining a full constellation of operational satellites has been a challenge for GLONASS due to financial issues. Efforts have been made in recent years to increase the number of operational satellites, ensuring better availability and coverage.

7.3 Comparison

Both GPS and GLONASS have an equal number of operational satellites, which allows for continuous and reliable navigation services. However, the availability and positioning accuracy may vary depending on the specific region and the receiver’s capability to utilize signals from both systems.

8. Use Cases and Applications

8.1 GPS Applications

The applications of GPS are widespread and diverse. From personal navigation devices and smartphones to vehicle tracking systems and precision agriculture, GPS has revolutionized the way we navigate and track locations. It is also extensively used in aviation, maritime navigation, surveying, outdoor recreation, and disaster management.

8.2 GLONASS Applications

GLONASS has similar applications to GPS and is widely used in various industries. It is particularly beneficial in high latitudes, such as the Arctic region, where satellite availability and accuracy can be challenging. GLONASS is used in transportation, logistics, geodesy, scientific research, and military applications, among others.

8.3 Combined Use

Integrating signals from both GPS and GLONASS can significantly enhance positioning accuracy and reliability. Many modern receivers are capable of utilizing signals from both systems simultaneously, improving the navigation experience in challenging environments. The combined use of GPS and GLONASS is particularly beneficial for activities such as surveying, precision agriculture, and geolocation-based services.

10. Future Outlook

10.1 Advancements in GPS

GPS continues to evolve and improve with advancements in technology. The next generation of GPS satellites, known as GPS III, provides enhanced positioning capabilities and increased resistance to interference. These satellites also offer a new civilian frequency, L5, which further enhances accuracy and reliability. Additionally, the development of other augmentation systems and the integration of signals from other GNSS systems will further improve the overall performance of GPS.

10.2 Advancements in GLONASS

GLONASS has made significant progress in recent years, with an increased number of operational satellites and improved reliability. Russia plans to launch additional GLONASS-K and GLONASS-K2 satellites with enhanced capabilities. These advancements aim to enhance coverage, accuracy, and the overall performance of the GLONASS system.

10.3 Integration of Other Systems

The future of navigation lies in the integration of multiple GNSS systems. This integration will provide users with an even higher level of accuracy, availability, and reliability. Efforts are being made to integrate GPS, GLONASS, Galileo (European GNSS), and BeiDou (Chinese GNSS) to create a truly global navigation system.

In conclusion, both GPS and GLONASS have revolutionized the way we navigate and access location-based services. While they have some technical differences, such as the number and positioning of satellites as well as signal frequencies, the overall goal is to provide accurate and reliable positioning information. The future of navigation lies in the integration of multiple GNSS systems, and advancements in GPS and GLONASS will continue to improve the user experience and expand the range of applications for these systems. So, whether you’re using GPS or GLONASS, rest assured that you have a reliable and accurate navigation solution at your fingertips.