Common GPS Issues

GPS accuracy can be improved by considering certain factors. GPS signals travel from multiple satellites to your device, and the quality of these signals plays a crucial role. To enhance accuracy, it's best to be outdoors, as barriers like buildings and trees can obstruct signals. The device should ideally receive strong signals from at least 3-4 satellites (ideally 7-8) simultaneously to provide accurate location data. Urban and natural canyons, like tall buildings and mountains, can also affect GPS signal accuracy. Alternatively, cellphones and LTE/4G enabled devices can be tracked using cellphone towers and base stations. However, in remote areas or places with challenging topography, the accuracy may suffer due to inconsistent signals between towers. Overall, while GPS provides the most precise location data, cell phones and tablets can still offer decent location information even without a GPS receiver.

Mapping software uses this information to determine your location based on measurements of your signal. Some common problems (others rare) that can affect the ability of any device to obtain good positioning data include:

  • When a GPS is turned on or if the GPS has been inactive in the background for too long, the GPS needs to download data from the satellites that describes the position and timing of all of the satellites in the system. This can take up to five or more minutes to be corrected and can cause incorrect GPS tracking.
  • Not enough satellites. Many GPS devices ideally need to receive signals from at least 7 or 8 satellites to calculate location to within about 10 meters. With fewer satellites the amount of uncertainty and inaccuracy increases. With less than 4 satellites, many GPS receivers struggle to produce accurate location estimates and will report “GPS signal lost” at points during the route.
  • Poor Hardware. If your device is older or does not have good GPS reception capabilities, it will struggle to receive satellite or cellphone tower signals.
  • Low battery on GPS devices. A low battery can affect the proper functioning of the GPS on any device.
  • Multipath signals. When signals from the GPS satellites or cellphone towers bounce off buildings, the GPS receiver can be confused by the extra time the signal took to reach it. In these cases, you may observe sudden errors in position. There is not much that can be done in these circumstances to reduce the effects of multipath errors. GPS is simply less accurate in these situations.
  • GPS Drift. The GPS track deviates from the road. You may see that the route generally follows the shape of the road but with much less precision.
  • Lost GPS signal. If a signal is lost and sometime later re-acquired, the pre- and post-signal-loss points will be treated just like any other two points (although more time has elapsed between them) and connect them with a straight line.
  • GPS bounce. A ‘jumpy’ GPS track can cause your activity to report more distance than you actually travelled since each ‘zig’ and ‘zag’ of your GPS track has to be accounted for with a straight line connecting them.
  • Radio interference or jamming. Satellite maintenance/maneuvers creating temporary gaps in coverage. In some cases, a device’s GPS hardware is working fine, but the software being used is faulty. For example, users can be misled with GPS software services including:

  • Incorrectly drawn maps
  • Mislabeled businesses and other points of interest
  • Missing roads, buildings, communities, etc.
  • Incorrectly estimated street addresses

How to Improve your GPS Accuracy? Well, as with most things in life, it depends. GPS satellites broadcast their signals in space with a certain amount of accuracy, but what you receive at ground level depends on factors including: satellite geometry signal blockage atmospheric conditions receiver design features/quality. So now that you understand that GPS is dependent on various aspects, here are some suggestions that will allow you to get the most precise location data on a specific device: Try to make sure your device is positioned in such a way to capture the GPS signal; try keeping the device high and in open areas - near windows if you are in a car or buildings – to get the best outcome. Try to avoid places with high probabilities of having poor GPS reception to the best of your ability (natural or city created valleys and canyons, dense forests, walls, etc.) Make sure to keep your device charged while running GPS applications. Low battery levels are one of the main reasons for losing signals on your device:

  • Keep the GPS application active on your device. When an application becomes stagnant from non-use it often stops actively tracking.
  • Make sure to do your research in regard to devices. Different devices have different GPS chips, so if GPS is one of the vital tools you will need to use then make sure you pick a device that is appropriate.
  • Consider connecting to third-party Bluetooth GPS receivers for better signals. This will improve your positioning data notably.
  • There is always the option to restart your device and/or turn GPS on/off several times. This helps more often than not. The reboot helps the GPS system to recalibrate, which can lead to better signal reception.

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