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An Easy Guide to How a GPS Smart Phone Works

The number of car drivers using their smart phone to provide GPS navigation has really taken off in the last five years, with many of them coming with GPS installed, or having the capacity to be compatible with one of the many different smart phone GPS apps that are available to purchase and download.


They can be an extremely cheap and affordable alternative to traditional standalone portable navigation devices and are starting to eat into the market space held by manufacturers such as Garmin and TomTom.  But how does a GPS smart phone actually work?

The Basics of Smart Phone GPS Navigation

A smart phone (or cell phone) is in essence just a more sophisticated version of the traditional two-way radio.  It works off towers and base stations which have been networked into an arrangement of different cells which are able to receive and send radio signals. Smart phones have low-power transmitters built in to them – and this is what allows them to communicate with cell tower that is nearest to their location.

As the driver and smart phone user travels around, their location is passed from one cell to another cell with the base stations monitoring how strong the smart phone’s signal is.  As the car drives between cells and moves towards the edge of the current one, the smart phone’s signal strength starts to diminish.

As this happens, the GPS base station that the driver and smart phone is getting closer to realizes that the signal strength is getting bigger and so transfers the GPS from one cell to the next cell, and so on and so forth.  This means that the signal transmitting to the smart phone is constantly being swapped along the line by the cell network so that it should never lose the signal – apart from when in areas where the towers might be further apart than usual.

If a driver is using smart phone navigation in a more remote location then the cell towers might actually be too far apart from each other to give a consistent and strong cell signal.  There are also other times when trouble navigating using GPS can occur – for example in built up areas with tall buildings or in places where there are mountains and hills – as this can interrupt the signal too.

However, even if the smart phone does not come with a GPS receiver it can still provide details on the driver’s location.  This works where a computer can calculate position based upon measuring the signal in the following ways:

  • The angle of approach to cell towers
  • The length of time it takes for a signal to travel via different cell towers
  • The strength of the smart phone signal when it reaches a tower

But, this method will always be less accurate than GPS as obstacles like buildings and tress can tend to have a negative effect on the length of time it takes for the signal reach a tower.

Despite the proliferation of GPS in smart phones, they are still not as accurate as a traditional standalone in-car GPS device – but are a reasonable cheap and affordable solution for drivers who do not want to spend more than one hundred dollars on a dedicated device.

Article Courtesy of

This article was kindly supplied by the team who run the GPS Navigation DVD website.  Your one stop shop for all things related to updating the GPS maps in your car.  If you own a car which has dashboard navigation then please visit their website to learn more about how you can update the device.

Vishal Gaikar

Vishal Gaikar

Vishal Gaikar is a professional blogger from Pune, India. He is Software Engineer, Web Addicted. At Shake the Tech, he writes on Technology, Gadgets & so on. Follow me @vishal

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