What’s A-GPS in fitness bands and Smartwatches

Global Position System(GPS) is familiar to most people. It helps us get directions on map apps and get recommendations from location-based services such as restaurants, hotels, gyms and so much more. GPS systems are used in smartphones, tablets, and smartwatches among other consumer electronics today.

But what is A-GPS? If you have used a smartwatch or fitness band, you have probably seen a notification from the companion app of your smartwatch which says “updating AGPS”. Well, A-GPS stands for Assisted Global Positioning System. It’s also known as Augmented GPS or A-GANSS for Galileo and A-Beidou for BeiDou. It’s mostly popular in smartwatches and fitness bands.

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A-GPS uses location data from nearby cellphone towers and WiFi networks to pinpoint your exact location on earth. Your smartwatch when paired with your smartphone talks to your provider’s cellphone towers and picks location data much faster than communicating directly with the satellites orbiting the planet. This data needs constant updating that’s why your smartwatch will ask you to update A-GPS almost every 3 weeks or so. At least that’s the case with my Amazfit Bip and Mi Watch Lite smart watches.

Since the position of the GPS satellite is always changing, the speed at which the watch searches for the satellite will become slower every once in a while. So When the watch is connected to the app to update AGPS, it can quickly locate the position of the satellite, so that the positioning speed of the watch can be
accelerated before the workout starts.

Related post: Mi Watch Lite(Redmi GPS Watch) review: Budget smartwatch with built-in GPS

There are other merits to A-GPS other than being faster. It also consumes less battery than connecting directly to GPS. Because smart watches are very small devices where battery is a big deal, A-GPS usually comes to the rescue. However, the downside is A-GPS is less accurate than the real GPS. That’s because of the time lag and additional round trips that your smartwatch through your phone has to go through to get data from your provider’s cellphone towers which in turn talk to orbiting satellites.

A-GPS is no replacement for GPS by any measure, but it can be helpful in more congested areas, high-rise buildings or dense forests where connectivity to satellites above is a challenge, connection speed and battery are of concern.

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