GPS and its Three Main Competitors: Galileo, Beidou, GLONASS

9 Jan 2014

GPS, short for global positioning satellite, is a United States navigation system that utilizes 24 satellites originally placed into orbit for military use by the Department of Defense. Today, Americans use those satellites for a variety of civilian functions related to GPS tracking, navigation, and guidance. Other countries, however, are attempting to make their presences felt in the navigation, tracking, and positioning market.


Europeans, uninterested in being dependent upon American systems began developing their own system. Galileo intends to offer basic navigation free of charge and offers both horizontal and vertical positioning accurate to within one meter. The positioning services are more accurate at higher latitudes with Galileo than with any other positioning services.

Current estimates have Galileo offering limited service by 2015 assuming the EU managed to work out frequency issues with the Beidou. Once operational, Galileo will be available to users worldwide, though the EU will pay for it. The expectation is that dual signal devices will be priced within 20 percent of the price of single signal GPS receivers. The belief is that providing two signals will create greater, more reliable accuracy for all users.


Currently, China’s Beidou satellite navigation system operates with 16 satellites that service the Asia-Pacific region, but current plans include global expansion to 30 satellites by 2020. The current system is accurate to within five meters in trials and has designs on improvements to reach accuracy measurements within centimeters in order to compete with the US GPS, which is the current dominant force in positioning systems worldwide.

The Chinese government sees the success of Beidou as critical for successful, accurate, and independent navigation for military purposes, including the guidance of missiles, warships, and attack aircraft. They are quick to point out, however, that the implications reach far beyond militaristic designs and work for civilian purposes as well.

Beidou offers something no other GPS system does offer though by providing telecommunication services. In addition to providing users with location and time information, Beidou also allows them to communicate with other users through text messages.


Short for Globalnaya Navigazionnaya Sputnikovaya Sistema or Global Navigation Satellite System, GLONASS is Russia’s version of GPS. Like US GPS, GLONASS uses 24 satellites. Originally, the intention was strictly militaristic. However, in 2007, Russia made GLONASS available for civilian and commercial use much like the US did in 1980.

While GPS is the more accurate of the two for most areas of the world, the Russian GLONASS system seems to operate more efficiently at northern latitudes. This makes sense, as the purpose of GLONASS was to operate in Russia, home to some of the highest latitudes on the planet.

GPS has become an important part of the daily lives of many people. Businesses use GPS tracking and GPS navigation to find destinations, avoid traffic congestion, improve fuel mileage, and even to save money. Individuals use it for over road and pedestrian guidance — even in out-of-the-way locations, and the military uses it to assure accurate targeting while avoiding civilian casualties whenever possible. The creation of new systems provides increase competition, greater accuracy, and more stability for civilians and businesses that depend on these positioning services.

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