Exploring Glonass vs. GPS: Present Status and Integration in Mobile Location SDKs

Marc Kranendonk
Marc Kranendonk
Content Manager
February 22, 2024
In Short: Since achieving full operational status, both GPS and Glonass have stood as the pillars of global navigation satellite systems, offering comprehensive global location coverage. While there isn't a distinct advantage of Glonass over GPS in terms of accuracy and coverage, the current application of both systems provides significant benefits for mobile devices. Multi-constellation support enables seamless switching between the satnav systems, ensuring consistent location-awareness. Our Location Software Development Kit caters to mobile devices employing GPS and Glonass, facilitating uninterrupted user experiences. This advantage extends to both users and mobile apps.

In a previous blog, we delved into the fascinating history of satellite navigation systems, highlighting the evolution of GPS and its counterparts. We also managed to throw in one too many Transformers references. 

Now, we pivot to the present, and focus on where GPS and Glonass stand as pillars of the global positioning systems. We’ll be overviewing their roles, comparing their present status, and their current ties with mobile location SDKs.

GPS and Glonass: Where They Stand Today

Global Positioning System (GPS)

Initially developed by the United States Department of Defense, GPS is the godfather of satellite navigation. From 1978 onwards there’s been a presence of GPS satellites orbiting the Earth and providing the location services many mobile apps depend on to this day.

With its extensive constellation of satellites orbiting the Earth, GPS provides accurate and reliable location information worldwide. In recent years, GPS technology has undergone significant advancements, like improved accuracy and faster signal acquisition, but there are few other extra developments in the workshop too. 

As of 2023, operators of GPS at the US Space Force (*bald eagle screech*) have been working on the M-code signal and modernizing the GPS for user equipment. Now, you probably had a double take on that sentence, and may be inclined to Google what an M-code signal is. Don’t worry, I got you covered. 

The M-code signal is a highly secure military-specific signal used in Global Positioning System satellites, designed to provide enhanced resistance to jamming and spoofing. This is particularly valuable for military applications where reliable and secure positioning, navigation, and timing information is essential. 

Now, the word military here means that it’s not a development that is being directly applied to civilian use. However, technology transfer is a thing and a more robust GPS signal that can circumvent jamming and spoofing has its everyday use case. Take for instance emergency services that require reliable navigation and communication during crises. So, next time you read or hear about an M-code signal it probably has to do with a new update to the civilian GPS signal. 

Glonass (Global Navigation Satellite System)

Originating from Russia, Glonass serves as a formidable counterpart to GPS. Their first satellite launch in 1982 was just under a decade after the first GPS satellite launch, and operates in a similar manner.

Glonass operates through a constellation of satellites, and offers the same global coverage and precise positioning capabilities. In recent years, Glonass has seen enhancements in its infrastructure with the introduction to new satellites like the latest Glonass K2. Such advancements have been made to bolster its performance and resilience, particularly in challenging environments such as urban canyons and high latitudes.

Glonass has become pivotal to Russia’s positioning, navigation, and timing both nationally and worldwide. Annual shipments of new Glonass/GNSS receivers for industries like communications, agriculture, transport and power industries exceed well over 25 million units in Russia alone.

So, like GPS, Glonass plays an as large of a role domestically as it does globally, with many devices fitted with two separate GPS and Glonass receivers to maximize global coverage.

Present Status: A Comparative Analysis

Coverage and Availability 

With 31 currently active satellites, GPS boasts a larger constellation, providing broader coverage in most regions. That said, some of the 24 Glonass satellites tend to be positioned at higher latitudes, offering superior coverage in northern regions. 

Accuracy and Signal Strength 

GPS traditionally held an edge in accuracy over Glonass. Glonass has a position accuracy of 5-10 meters, whilst GPS has sat around 3.5-7.8 meters. Recent enhancements in Glonass technology, like their new satellites introduced in 2015, have narrowed this gap significantly. The Russian sat nav system now sits at around 4.46–7.38 meters accuracy, whilst GPS ranges between 2-8.76 meters.

In all honesty, there is no clear advantage of Glonass over GPS, but no one should see it as a competition between the two. We no longer have the Cold War rivalry, and having both satellite systems is very helpful for mobile devices.

Working with Mobile Location SDKs

The presence of multiple global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) for mobile devices allows for multi-constellation support. Mobile devices that can receive GPS and Glonass location services entail that they can alternate and combine both systems for greater accuracy. This allows for consistent global coverage wherever present in the world.

Dependency on just one GNSS has its risks should there be a temporary stop in coverage. If Glonass is temporarily offline, then the device can easily switch to GPS without interruption. This is a direct benefit for users and their location-aware mobile apps. If Glonass has better coverage than GPS in a certain area or time, the device can switch to that system.

At Roam.ai, our Location SDK works uninterrupted for both GPS and Glonass. If the user's device is capable of connecting to both systems the SDK will support it and still function as effectively.

Multi-constellation support is just one of many features that makes the Roam.ai Location SDK robust and adaptable to any situation the user and their device finds themselves in. Except if they’re on the Moon. Not much satellite coverage there, yet.


If this article has sparked your curiosity for the world of location technology, mobile apps, and building user experiences with locations, explore our other blog topics and knowledge base pages to learn more.

If you’re looking to build location-aware mobile apps, and utilize location technology, contact our team or sign up to our dashboard and discover how to build your app with Roam.ai’s Location SDK and APIs today.

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Marc Kranendonk
Marc Kranendonk
Content Manager
February 22, 2024