Geolocation refers to the process of determining the geographic location of an object, usually through electronic means such as GPS. A modern example of geolocation is the location function in various electronic devices such as smartphones.
Many modern applications can be given access to a device’s geolocation data, so a review app can show restaurants within a few miles/kilometers, a banking app can show nearby branches, or a game can offer augmented reality experiences based on where the device is located.
Also, most smartphones have a mapping app that can locate the phone on a street map in order to provide directions to some other location.
Common Geolocation Methods
These are the main ways a smartphone (and other consumer electronic device) can provide geolocation services:
- The Global Positioning System (GPS): A device can have a GPS receiver that communicates with the GPS satellite system that uses the positions of the satellites it can communicate with to determine its position on the ground. A disadvantage is that things like heavy tree cover or buildings can interfere with the signal.
- Wireless: A device connects with several different cell towers in the area and using signal strength and triangulation determines its position on the ground. The disadvantage is this can be inaccurate when there are limited cell towers available, and will not work where there is no cell reception.
- The Wi-Fi Positioning System (WPS): Like Wireless positioning above, but instead of cell towers, uses the positions of nearby Wi-Fi hotspots. This is generally only useful in urban locations with dense Wi-Fi coverage.
- Wireless-assisted GPS: Combines Wireless and/or WPS with GPS to compensate for the weaknesses of the different methods. It can often get the device’s location faster than GPS alone.