How the GPS of a smartphone works
The GPS antenna is one of the pillars of the smartphone.
Being able to position ourselves thanks to our phone has become a crucial task for many services and applications that run inside the device and make our lives much easier.
Having a good GPS signal is very important in games like Pokémon Go or to indicate directions while driving, so let’s see how to maintain a good GPS signal.
The first step to improving the signal is to understand how our GPS works. GPS is a global satellite positioning service that the U.S. Army began developing in 1973 and has been publicly available since 1995. The service started with 24 satellites and currently (2016) there are 31 satellites in orbit.
Our smartphones communicate with these satellites thanks to a GPS antenna included in the hardware of our smartphone.
This antenna is controlled by drivers that the manufacturer includes within the operating system. Thus the quality of the signal we receive will depend on three fundamental factors: the number of satellites with which we connect, the quality of the GPS antenna of our smartphone and the proper implementation of drivers in the system.
The last two factors are very difficult to influence as they are things controlled by the manufacturer of our smartphone.
If you have serious GPS reception problems with your smartphone, the first step would be to contact the manufacturer, your device may have a factory defect.
As far as the first factor is concerned, we can have a little influence. We can make ourselves more visible to satellites and improve positioning using other signals we have on our smartphone.
Activates “High Precision” mode
Usually the GPS antennas we find on a smartphone are not as powerful as we would like because the space inside is very limited.
To improve speed in positioning our smartphones have a function called Advanced GPS or A-GPS. With this function we use mobile networks, Wi-Fi networks or Bluetooth to accelerate positioning thanks to triangulation with telephone antennas or other devices.
Keep the GPS signal active
One of the main problems we have when moving between applications is that the GPS signal is switched off to save battery power. For example, if we are playing Pokémon Go and at some point we want to see messages in another application, we change, when we return the signal has been lost and the smartphone has to reposition itself.
We can lock the GPS so it always has a signal and never loses it.
To do this we just need to install the GPS Connected application and click on ‘Lock GPS’, it’s that simple.
Finally, keep in mind that keeping the GPS antenna turned on will use a lot of energy and your battery life may last less than you expected.
Make yourself visible to GPS satellites
A good location will depend on the number of satellites your smartphone connects to. To have a better signal you need to be as visible to these satellites as possible. The more open the space you are in, the better the signal will be. Stay away from buildings, trees and anything else that can serve as a screen, even if the day is cloudy the GPS signal may not be very strong.
If you move around the city avoid being near buildings is impossible and inside buildings the location by satellites becomes even more complicated. So in these cases use the ‘High Precision’ mode.
You can use various applications such as GPS Essentials or GPS Status & Toolbox to check which satellites are visible and to which you are potentially connected.
With any of these applications you can see the map of satellites to which you are connecting to receive the signal and in which point of the firmament are the rest that you do not see. With this information you can know if the GPS coverage is good or not.
With GPS Status & Toolbox we can also get to know the health of our sensors by entering the menu under ‘Diagnose sensors’.
Obtain XTRA positioning data
With GPS Status & Toolbox and GPS Status – Test & Fix we can manually refresh the data that we use with the A-GPS and that come from the telephone networks.
In GPS Status & Toolbox, enter the menu and choose ‘Manage A-GPS status’, in the next window click on ‘Download’ to get the latest positioning data or ‘Reset’ to clear the GPS cache and recalibrate the position (this option is appropriate if you have experienced errors).
In GPS Status – Test & Fix, we have these two options directly in two buttons at the bottom of the screen ‘Reset GPS’, if you have had errors, or ‘Get XTRA data’ to improve the position.
Uses an external GPS antenna
If you still have problems with the antenna or it turns out that it is not very powerful the only thing you can do to improve the signal is using an external GPS antenna.
In the market there is a wide range of antennas, but I recommend one that you can easily connect to your smartphone, for example via Bluetooth and can be charged by USB with the same charger of the smartphone.
The configuration is very simple, simply link the antenna to the device and to position.