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GPS Vs Cellular Locating Technology

Alex Flitton
Jul 17, 2018 8:05:00 AM

Location technology is one of the most helpful features available to today’s mobile consumers. It is used to navigate, find lost phones or cars, and even works to help parents keep their children safe.

Although location technologies have been used to track metadata without consent, it continues to be a feature that today’s consumers cannot live without.

The Difference Between GPS and Wifi Locating Technology

The primary difference between GPS and Wifi locating technologies is in the method of gathering location data. GPS uses satellites that orbit around the Earth to triangulate a user's  location, whereas Wifi locating technology uses relative network signal strength gathered at network access points.

Each technology has its own pros and cons. Let's explore some of those now.

GPS Locating

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a government-owned navigation system that operates using radio waves. In order to properly use GPS, you must have a clear line of sight with at least four GPS satellites. Objects such as mountains, clouds, buildings and trees reduce your chances of creating a successful GPS connection.

Some Facts About GPS

  • The GPS network is structured by about 30 individual satellites that orbit around the Earth.
  • Locating accuracy ranges from 10 to 100 meters for most devices.
  • With special military-grade equipment, positioning can be pinpointed within one meter.
  • The average GPS accuracy is within 4 meters (13 feet).

The Cons Of GPS

Poor Accuracy

Although GPS can locate you anywhere on the planet, no matter how remote, it is not the most accurate locating technology available. Depending on the device used, locating accuracy can only reach within 4 meters, or about 13 feet.

But, the accuracy of GPS is further restrained when the user is located in a building, surrounded by buildings, clouds, or trees. Therefore, GPS works best in open areas, with an unobstructed view of the sky.

A Fairweather Technology

When the skies are cloudy, so is GPS. Without a clear view of the sky, atmospheric interference makes locating users much more difficult. That’s also why locating people in buildings is ineffective with GPS. Because of this lapse in useability, fewer PERS devices are relying on GPS to locate users. 

Cellular Locating

Cellular location technology is actually an umbrella term that is used to describe a couple of locating technologies, including Wifi and Sim-based methods.

Where GPS lacks, cellular seems to fill in the gaps. Its capabilities shine well in populated areas where cell towers are more densely located. Cellular methods thrive in buildings, cities and densely-populated areas because of how it uses crowdsourced Wi-Fi data.  It can locate a particular device based on its distance from a collection of network access points.

Another benefit to the cellular model is its accuracy in pinpointing a user’s location within buildings and areas with network coverage. This technology is capable of locating a user within a couple of feet which results in much more effective action by emergency responders.

The Cons of Cellular Locating

Network Coverage

The biggest pitfall associated with cellular locating technology is geographical coverage. For subscribers in rural areas or people who travel away from home, cellular networks are not always a reliable ally.

As long as 4G and LTE remain in force, this will continue to be the case. However, the 5G sunrise could greatly improve network coverage to underserved areas, although not perfectly.


GPS is a free service provided by the US government and has been so since its public release in the 1980s. Cellular location on the other hand is dependent on a subscription to a particular network service. While it is not expensive, greater locating accuracy and suburban coverage comes with a price tag.

A Healthy Compromise

Since GPS is free and most subscribers need cellular capabilities, many mPERs devices have both GPS and cellular features included to ensure locating is possible in any scenario. This is a healthy compromise since each locating technology offers its own unique strengths. A good mPERS device should provide each of these technologies to ensure that help will arrive as quickly as possible when it is needed.

Locating Technologies In PERS Devices

Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS), are specially designed to provide emergency contact to people who live in high-risk conditions. Elderly people are the most common target market for PERS companies because they often live alone and are at risk of falling and other injuries.

The two locating technologies are often leveraged in PERS devices, but each has its own benefits to people in different living situations.

GPS Technology In PERS Devices

Since senior subscribers spend the majority of their days at home, GPS technology doesn’t help emergency responders locate which specific floor or room of a building they are in. When it comes to providing emergency medical response to subscribers, these are precious minutes that cannot be wasted.

However, in rural areas where network strength is not as strong, and where there isn't a lot of signal interference, GPS technology outshines wifi locating.

Cellular (WiFi) Technology In PERS Devices

Since most seniors spend their time indoors and in suburban areas, cellular has become the primary locating technology in today’s PERS devices. And, with the impending 5G sunrise, network density will only improve the functionality of cellular locating technology.

If the network is properly configured, wifi locating technology can pinpoint a PERS user's location to the specific floor and room of a building, making the work of finding the subscriber faster than ever before.


Learn About The Future Of Locating Technologies

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