What Data Type Does GPS Use?


Angela Bailey

What Data Type Does GPS Use?

Global Positioning System (GPS) is a satellite-based navigation system that allows users to determine their precise location anywhere on Earth. It has become an integral part of our daily lives, from guiding us on road trips to helping us find our way in unfamiliar places. But have you ever wondered what data type GPS uses to provide us with such accurate positioning information?

The NMEA Data Standard

To understand the data type used by GPS, we need to look at the National Marine Electronics Association (NMEA) data standard. NMEA is a widely adopted protocol for marine electronic devices, including GPS receivers. The most commonly used version of this standard is NMEA 0183.

NMEA 0183 specifies the format and rules for exchanging data between different devices over serial communication. It defines several data types, known as sentences, each serving a specific purpose. One of the most important sentences for GPS positioning is the GGA (Global Positioning System Fix Data) sentence.

The GGA Sentence

The GGA sentence provides essential information about the position fix obtained by the GPS receiver. It includes details such as latitude, longitude, altitude, time stamp, number of satellites in view, and their signal strength.

Let’s break down the components of a typical GGA sentence:

  • $GPGGA: The sentence identifier indicates that it is a GGA sentence related to the Global Positioning System.
  • hhmmss.ss: The time stamp in UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) format.
  • ddmm.mmmm: The latitude expressed in degrees and minutes.
  • N/S: Indicates whether the latitude is north or south of the equator.
  • dddmm.mmmm: The longitude expressed in degrees and minutes.
  • E/W: Indicates whether the longitude is east or west of the prime meridian.
  • Fix Quality Indicator: A numeric value representing the quality of the position fix obtained by the GPS receiver.
  • Number of Satellites: The number of satellites in view contributing to the position fix.
  • Horizontal Dilution of Precision (HDOP): A measure of positional accuracy based on satellite geometry.
  • Altitude: The altitude above mean sea level.
  • Units: The units used for altitude and geoidal separation (elevation).
  • Geoidal Separation: The difference between the reference ellipsoid and mean sea level.
  • *checksum: A two-digit hexadecimal value used for error checking.

    The GGA sentence provides a comprehensive set of data that allows precise positioning using GPS. However, it’s worth noting that there are other NMEA sentences, such as GSA (GNSS DOP and Active Satellites) and RMC (Recommended Minimum Navigation Information), which provide additional information related to GPS navigation.

    Incorporating GPS Data in Applications

    To utilize GPS data in your applications, you need to parse and extract relevant information from NMEA sentences such as GGA. This can be done using programming languages like Python or libraries specifically designed for GPS data processing.

    Once you have extracted the necessary data, you can integrate it into your application to display maps, calculate distances, track movements, or perform other location-based functionalities.


    The data type used by GPS is the NMEA 0183 standard. The GGA sentence, part of this standard, provides essential information about the position fix obtained by a GPS receiver. By understanding and parsing NMEA sentences, developers can incorporate GPS data into their applications to create dynamic and location-aware functionalities.

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