The Difference Between GSM & GPS

By Julie Davoren

Mobile tracking devices use GSM and GPS technologies.
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Development in mobile tracking technology focuses on two principal technologies: global systems for mobile communication and global positioning systems. GSM is used to send and collect data from a central unit through a data call. GPS receives information about a location from satellites, but it can't communicate with a central unit.


The GPS technology uses triangulation to at least three or four of the 24 satellites that orbit the earth. Owned by the U.S. government, these satellites are continuously monitored for computing the position and location of objects. GPS receivers detect the satellites’ transmitted signals and accurately determine the location. Conversely, GSM technology determines an object's position by using signal strength and triangulation from base stations. There are numerous electronic devices based on GPS, while GSM technology is mostly used by mobile phone devices. You can use either technology as a stand-alone service and also incorporate them into secondary devices, such as personal data assistants.


The availability of signals for positioning and the accuracy of positioning lead to the principle difference between GPS and GSM. In general, GPS devices require a clear view of the sky, although you can receive reliable information with increased sensitivity even with obstructions. Still, GPS devices will experience problems if they are surrounded by tall buildings. Conversely, GSM provides locations by using closely-spaced base stations, even in tunnels and dense areas where GPS can’t provide information. If there are no base stations, GSM devices can’t provide positioning.

Mobile Tracking

GPS is the newer technology for mobile tracking. It can track the location of a mobile device or phone in real time by using digital maps, such as Google maps, and compatible applications, and is mostly used in smartphones. GSM, on the other hand, triangulates the location of a cell phone in a network by using the phone’s international mobile equipment identity, or IMEI, number.


If your mobile phone has a GPS chip, it must be on if you want to locate it using actual GPS satellites. If your mobile phone does not have a GPS chip, or if it is turned off, then GSM localization will triangulate the position using the three closest GSM base stations. Localization using GSM will work to provide your general position, and it also saves your cell phone battery, but it can’t provide precise position information.