What Is GLONASS And Do I Need It?

What is GLONASS?

GLONASS is essentially a Russian alternative GPS system. It stands for Globalnaya Navigatsionnaya Sputnikovaya Sistema (Global Navigation Satellite System), and its a system operated by the Russian Aerospace Defence Force (GPS was developed by the US militaryback in 1978).

Originally designed for use in high speed vehicles such as jet fighters, GLONASS was opened up for public use in 2007, achieving global coverage in 2011, and has now made its way into the consumer market in the same way that GPS has become a commonly used technology.

How does GLONASS work?

The system is made up of three parts:

  • Satellites
  • Ground Stations
  • Receivers

The satellite network accuracy is augmented by a series of ground stations who feedback geodesic data. These ground stations are in various global locations including Antarctica, Cuba and Brazil and more are planned.

The position of the receiver is triangulated by the system, the receiver being a GLONASS compatible device, such as a Garmin Fenix 3 GPS Multisport Watch that is also GLONASS capable.

The device in question will be using data from four or more satellites and using GLONASS status data to determine its speed, position and time.

Differences between GLONASS and GPS

Aside from the way the satellites use different codes and GLONASS frequency to communicate, the primary difference is that GLONASS currently has less satellites than GPS. So what is GLONASS really like in use then? Theoretically, the smaller number of satellites can increase the time taken for devices to connect to GLONASS and can also lead to slightly reduced accuracy, when used on it’s own. Rather than this being an all out GLONASS vs GPS battle however, in real world use the accuracy between the two systems is very similar, especially in the Northern hemisphere where there are a higher number of GLONASS ground stations.

Consumer Use

GLONASS chips are becoming increasingly common in the latest portable devices, however it is still catching up with GPS. There are various devices to choose from, including watches and handheld GPS devices. If you’re looking for a wearable device, we highly recommend the Garmin Fenix 3

Garmin Fenix 3 GPS Multisport Watch with Outdoor Navigation

Read more reviews and check pricing for the Garmin Fenix 3 Multisport GPS Watch on Amazon

Prefer the idea of a handheld GPS unit? Garmin’s eTrex range are superb and with something for every budget there’s plenty of choice. Take a look at the Garmin eTrex 20x Outdoor Handheld GPS Unit

Garmin eTrex 20x Outdoor Handheld GPS Unit

Read more reviews and check pricing for the Garmin eTrex 20x Outdoor Handheld GPS Unit with TopoActive Western Europe Maps on Amazon

How do I use GLONASS?

If you are located somewhere with problematic GPS reception e.g. near tall trees, buildings, etc. a GLONASS capable device can use the GLONASS signal alongside GPS to improve accuracy. This will however increase battery drain.

There are some dedicated devices such as Garmin GLO whch is dedicated GLONASS reciever which connects to mobile devices using bluetooth, giving much better accuracy than built-in receivers.


So there’s your brief answer to “what is GLONASS?” but do you really need it? Having this capability on your device is not essential, however it does offer an extra layer of accuracy in difficult conditions, and if you’re navigating, tracking your sports training or racing with your device, that little extra might be worth having.

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