Why GPS Signal Lost

If you’re familiar with the story of Hansel and Gretel, then you’ll remember how Hansel used a trail of breadcrumbs so that he and his sister can find their way back home and how—much to their chagrin—the system failed them. Do you find yourself in a Hansel-and-Gretelesque situation, wondering in frustration, “Why GPS signal lost?” Well, we understand your vexation.

While it’s easy to comprehend how a trail of breadcrumbs can fail, it’s quite difficult to understand how a modern Global Positioning System or GPS can leave you hanging—and hopefully not in a gingerbread house with a witch ready to cook you for dinner!

So before you end up pulling your hair out, take time to know your GPS, how it works, what causes it to fail, and what you can do—if there’s any—to improve its performance.

How Does GPS Work?

GPS is comprised of 31 well-spaced satellites scattered around the Earth at 20,000 km altitude. It is said that wherever you are on the planet, at least four of these satellites are visible. Now, these satellites provide geo-locations to ground stations and can be intercepted by ground receivers.

Originally, this expensive technology was exclusively used by the US military since 1973 until it was opened for civilians’ use in the 1980s. And with ground GPS receivers becoming more and more affordable, almost everyone now can make use of this technology through a mobile phone, tablet, handheld GPS unit, or fitness watch, among others.

The satellites and the ground stations communicate through radio signals. Each satellite with atomic clock broadcasts its position at regular intervals at the speed of light. Your GPS receiver then intercepts these signals.

Your location is pinned down based on how long it takes for each satellite’s signal to arrive by using at least three satellites as points of reference in a process called trilateration. In principle, the more satellites there are above you, the more accurate your GPS receiver can tell you your location.

Now, Why GPS Signal Lost or Inaccuracy?

Just as Hansel’s system proved to be problematic or our forefather’s use of the heavenly bodies showed itself to be limited, it is the same with our human-made constellation of satellite networks. Here are some of the reasons your GPS can go haywire:

  • Lack of solid data connection

One of the reasons for your device to register ‘GPS signal lost’ is a temporary loss of data connection or problems with connecting to a roaming partner when traveling to a place outside your home network.

  • Rapid changes in the Earth’s electron density

Equatorial Plasma Irregularities or EPIs occurring in the ionosphere’s F region can cause GPS signal loss. This happens mostly in places near the planet’s magnetic equator when satellites are at low altitudes.

  • Out-of-Date Maps

While there is a surplus of companies that develop apps and GPS-enabled devices, there are only a few that make map databases. Moreover, it may take months to apply corrections and additions on the end of app, device, and map developers.

  • Wrong GPS Settings

To stay safe, set your GPS tool to ‘paved roads’ and ‘fastest’ route instead of finding shortcuts. According to Rich Owings, curator of the website GPSTracklog.com, opting for the shortest route is tantamount to ‘courting disaster,’ which may lead you to ‘isolated parts’ and ‘mountainous regions.’

  • Blocked or Not Enough Satellites

To get an accurate and reliable result, you need to intercept signals from at least three satellites. In a downtown area where signals are blocked or where signals bounce off large objects such as skyscrapers, inaccurate reading can be an issue. Or if your local patch of the sky doesn’t have enough satellites, then you can expect readings to be an off.

So, What Can You Do to Solve These Issues?

While a GPS signal loss or inaccurate reading is not altogether avoidable, there are certain workarounds on your end that you can use. Before we get to the nitty-gritty, you would want to determine first if the issue is hardware or software-related.

For this, you can use GPS Essentials to pinpoint the problem. In the main menu, click ‘Satellites’ and wait for your phone to connect to satellites around the world. If no satellites appear, then the problem could be your smartphone case, a metallic object nearby, or a GPS hardware issue. If satellites appear and your GPS is still not working, then here are some steps you can take:

Clear the app cache and data.

Your device can sometimes get stuck on certain GPS satellites that are no longer in range. To solve the problem, clear the app cache and data. Make sure the APN settings are correct and test out the data, too. Restart your phone, check the connection, and see if you have your GPS up and running.

Install app or system updates.

Another commonly overlooked issue that can cause your GPS not to work properly is the failure to get a newer version of your tools such as the Google Map. Try performing an app update. This may be all you need to solve the issue.

Switch to ‘High Accuracy’ mode.

While this method may entail your device using up more battery than normal, this allows you to get the best possible signal. This uses your device’s GPS in conjunction with your WiFi or mobile network connection.

Get an external GPS receiver.

If none of the solutions above works, then consider getting an external GPS receiver such as the Garmin GLO that you can connect to your device.

Use GPS-combo systems.

It takes at least three satellites to provide you a reliable location. When you harness more satellites systems, the more accurate the results become. Presently, there are six positioning and navigation satellite systems orbiting the planet: GPS (USA) with 31 satellites; GLONASS (Russia), 24; Galileo (European Union), 14; BeiDou (China), 22; NAVIC (India), 6; and QZSS (Japan), 3.

So if all else fails and when it’s more convenient or practical, then find a device or an app that uses two to three satellite systems at the same time such as the GPS-GLONASS-NAVIC or GPS-GLONASS-Beidou. These systems produce better readings than a GPS-only system.

We hope that you’ve found your answer to why GPS signal lost, learned a few more about the GPS system in general, and picked up some quick or practical fixes that you can use.