GLONASS – What It is and How It Works?


GLONASS is an acronym that stands for Globalnaya Navigazionnaya Sputnikovaya Sistema, or better put, Global Navigation Satellite System. You may already guess what it’s about from the full meaning.

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GLONASS is the Russian version of GPS (Global Positioning System).

Who built GLONASS?

The development of GLONASS began in the Soviet Union in 1976. GLONASS stands as the most expensive program that the Russian Federal Space Agency has embarked on, consuming a third of its 2010 budget.


There are various versions of GLONASS, and they are:

  • GLONASS – This was launched in 1982. The satellites that were launched were intended to function for weather positioning, measuring velocity and timing wherever in the world or close to earth space by the Russian military and official organizations.
  • GLONASS-M – This was launched in 2003. Adds the second civil code. GLONASS-M is vital for GIS mapping receivers.
  • GLONASS-k – began in 2011 again and has three more types, which are k1, k2, and km for studies. Adds third civil frequency.
  • GLONASS-K2 – was be launched after 2015
  • GLONASS-KM – set to be launched after 2025 (presently in the research phase)

What is A-GLONASS?

A-GLONASS or Assisted GLONASS is quite like GLONASS, but it brings more features for smartphones. It comes with features like real-time traffic data, turn by turn navigation, and more.

A-GLONASS uses the cell towers close to your location to quickly lock your location with the aid of your data connection. A-GLONASS also promotes the performance in chip-sets that accompanies GLONASS support.

How much did it cost to set up GLONASS?

Up to 2011 records have it that the Russian government spent close to 5 billion dollars on the GLONASS project and further made an investment of 320 billion rubles ($10 billion) for the 2012 to 2020 time frame.

GLONASS remains the most pricey project ever by the Russian Federal Space Agency.

How does GLONASS differ from GPS?

GPS was developed by the USA and had a network of 31 satellites covering the planet earth and has been used widely in commercial devices like navigators and mobile phones.

GLONASS is a Russian development that was initially started by the Soviet Union in 1976. It has a network of 24 satellites covering the planet.

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Advantage of GLONASS over GPS (GLONASS Vs. GPS)

There is no other apparent advantage apart from accuracy over GPS. When used independently, GLONASS does not have the kind of reliable coverage that GPS has, but when the two are used together, there certainly is an increased accuracy with coverage.

And it is more effective in northern latitudes as Russia started the GLONASS project naturally for Russia.

The accuracy of GLONASS is a significant advantage as it boasts of up to 2 meters of accuracy. A combination of GPS + GLONASS allows a smart device to be easily pinpointed by a collection of 55 satellites all across the earth.

So when you find yourself in a place where GPS signals are stuck such as in subways or between huge buildings, you will be accurately tracked by GLONASS satellites.

Commercial Use of GLONASS

The first commercial use of GLONASS was in the car navigator as Glospace SGK-70. However, it was quite bulky and pricey. The Russian government is doing some work to promote commercial use of GLONASS.

iPhone 4S was the first device from Apple to use a combination of GPS and GLONASS for pinpointing a location on maps.

Every high-end device that can use GPS facilities, especially navigators, now adds GLONASS receivers on their chip so that they can use location-based services.

What is offered for smartphones?

Today almost any mobile phone, whether Android or IOS, high end or a low budget, is equipped with A-GPS (assisted Global Positional System) that makes use of network capabilities to find a person’s location.

Now with the offering of GLONASS for public services, more smartphones are being launched that support the GPS+GLONASS technology to use dual-core location-based service to pinpoint a location.

Initially, only high-end or Flagship smartphones boast these features, but in due time, we will see both of these technologies being supposed by low and mid-range smartphones. Some more companies and chipmakers seem to be interested in GLONASS technology.

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This means that more smartphones will be launched with this technology.

How Google Maps make use of GLONASS and GPS?

Google Maps, as well as other mapping apps like Apple Maps and Nokia’s HERE Maps, make use of the data connection to link to the satellites of GPS and GLONASS.

The present-day smartphones come with both A-GPS and A-GLONASS support, bringing features like location tracking, turn by turn navigation, and real-time location information.

What’s next after GLONASS and GPS?

European Union is presently working on a system known as GALILEO, which will provide the most accurate global positioning service under civilian control.

The Galileo system is made up of 30 satellites (27 operational + 3 active spares) that are positioned in three circular Medium Earth Orbit planes at 23 222 km altitude above the Earth, as well as at an inclination of the orbital planes of 56 degrees to the equator.

Noteworthy also is China’s development of its own constellation of 35 satellites known as the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System and has been under construction since January 2015.

The BeiDou will offer more capabilities than what GPS can. It is presently operational in China and Asia Pacific region and using 11 satellites. BeiBou is set to be globally available in 2020.

IRNSS or Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System is an autonomous satellite system that is under development by ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) and is going to offer public service and restricted service (authorized users like the military).

The system will consist of a constellation of 7 satellites, and 4 out of the 7 are already placed in the orbit. The project has been operational since 2016.

We hope you found this article helpful. Leave a comment below.

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