How do Russia’s GLONASS and USA’s GPS Compare

20 May 2014


Navigation has come a long way since its early days of providing services to military services before civilians had access to it. Most modern systems use satellite navigation, which provides positioning and coverage through satellites. These satellites send signals to electronic receivers, and are used in multiple types of navigation systems, including GPS and GLONASS. Here are some main differences and similarities between the two systems.


Global positioning system (GPS) is the USA’s satellite navigation system. It has very high accuracy, able to get up-to-date information regardless of the current weather condition. It is one of the oldest navigation systems, originally being introduced in 1973. Until it became public in the 2000s, GPS was used primarily for the U.S. Department of Defense.


Russia also has a satellite navigation system, called GLONASS, or Global Navigation Satellite System. It is also a space-based system, similar to GPS, and operated by the Russian Aerospace Defense Forces. GLONASS was developed just two years after GPS and went through a large restoration in the 2000s. As of 2010, it became the Russian Federal Space Agency’s most expensive program.


The first major difference between GPS and GLONASS is that GPS has a higher accuracy rate. Tests conducted to look at how accurate the data and information is for each type of satellite navigation system have revealed, at least so far, GPS is still coming out ahead.

The last series of tests showed GLONASS being accurate from 10 feet, while GPS was ahead at 6 feet. With advancements in the works for GLONASS this could change in the near future. The fact that the GLONASS stations are mostly in Brazil and Antarctica while the U.S. system has them worldwide likely makes a difference.

Number of Ground Stations

GLONASS may not have their ground stations in as many locations around the world, but they are quickly building up the number of ground stations. GPS is winning with the quantity of ground stations, but Russia is planning on adding 50 stations in 35 countries in the coming years. If Russia follows through with these plans, they may pass up GPS and become an excellent alternative for the US-based system. Currently, GPS is in the United States, Europe, Brazil, India, China, and South Africa. Russia wants to set up in Cuba, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Spain.

Satellite Locations

One way GLONASS appears to be ahead of GPS is by having satellite systems that are meant for high latitudes, where GPS systems currently cannot reach. While it will likely never replace GPS, it does make it an excellent alternative for signals in certain parts of the world. However, it does suggest a benefit for having antennas and receivers that can pick up signals from both GPS and GLONASS in order for the most pertinent and accurate information.

Age and Experience

The U.S. GPS system has been around longer and is more mature. Because of this, it have notoriety around the world, not just in the United States. And, simply put, more consumer products take advantage of this technology, which is currently a drawback for GLONASS.

In the satellite positioning and navigation race, just because GPS is ahead on many fronts, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a solid future for Russia’s GLONASS system. The brains and braun’s surrounding GLONASS are clearly aspiring to move up to the level of GPS in the near future.

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