Understanding Human Mobility: GPS Data in the Modern World

Get data for any location

Start your search

In an age where location-based technology is becoming increasingly integral to various industries, GPS data has transcended from being a mere navigational tool to a potent source of insight into human behavior and mobility. Understanding how GPS data is collected, its benefits, and its myriad applications can provide a competitive edge to businesses looking to leverage this digital goldmine.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore what GPS data is, how it's collected, and how businesses across multiple sectors are harnessing its power. Furthermore, we’ll unpack how to work with GPS data, highlight top providers, and offer real-world case studies to showcase its practical implementation. Whether you're a marketing strategist looking to enhance your geo-targeting or a city planner aiming to optimize traffic flows, this deep-dive into GPS data is for you.

What Is GPS Data?

GPS data is a compilation of spatial coordinates and time information. It is a digital footprint of human movement, collected by GPS-enabled devices such as smartphones or automotive navigation systems. This wealth of data not only reveals where individuals are but also provides a comprehensive snapshot of how they got there and where they might be going next.

The Nuts and Bolts of GPS Data

GPS tracking comprises three principal segments: the satellites orbiting the earth, the ground station that controls them, and the user equipment (UE) on the ground. Generally, GPS data includes latitude, longitude, and altitude of the target tracked with a timestamp. For precision navigation and timing, advanced GPS modules can provide data at the millisecond level, important for applications in critical infrastructure and sensitive operations.

How Is GPS Data Collected?

GPS data is gathered through a network of satellites orbiting the earth, collectively known as the Global Positioning System (GPS). GPS-enabled devices receive signals from multiple satellites to ascertain the device’s exact location on Earth along with precise timestamps. With receivers becoming increasingly sophisticated, they can track changes in position as small as millimeters.

GPS data is often sold as location data, which can then be aggregated into privacy-friendly insights and analytics offerings. Unacast, for instance, has a whole suite of location data products, from global, enterprise-level location data to its easy-to-use location insights platform.

GPS Tracking in Action

From fitness wearables recording a jogger's route to fleets of delivery trucks being monitored for efficiency, GPS tracking is omnipresent. Real-time tracking and historical data logging are the twin pillars of GPS data collection, enabling a great number of downstream applications.

Benefits of GPS Data

The value of GPS data lies in its ability to paint a clear picture of human mobility patterns. This information is invaluable for a breadth of use-cases, from measuring store foot traffic to informing urban planning decisions.

Optimizing Logistics

At the individual level, GPS data serves as a personal cartographer, ensuring we're never lost. In the broader context, it’s a powerful tool for optimizing logistics, route planning, and supply chain. It’s used to optimize city planning, store operations, real estate decisions, and more.

Safety and Surveillance

GPS tracking is often employed to ensure the safety of individuals and valuable shipments. It also plays a pivotal role in law enforcement to monitor offenders or in emergency response to locate those in need.

Understanding Consumer Behavior

GPS data is a key way to understand how consumers behave in the real world. By using GPS data in a location analysis, businesses can understand consumer interactions with stores, commute patterns, neighborhood demographics, and even activity at custom locations.

Industries at the Forefront of GPS Data Use

gps data

GPS data has found a home in a diverse array of industries, transforming how they operate, strategize, and deliver value to their customers.

Retail and Marketing

The retail sector employs GPS data to measure foot traffic, analyze consumer behavior in and around stores, and deliver hyper-targeted campaigns. With consumer data enrichment, retailers and marketers can add location-based persona information to their existing databases and deploy location-based advertising, find customer lookalikes, and reconcile consumer data across devices.

Urban Planning

City planners lean on GPS data to enhance public transportation systems, design better road networks, and create more efficient urban spaces that cater to the movement patterns of citizens.

Real Estate

Real estate companies utilize GPS data to inform their investment decisions. With Unacast’s location insights platform, it’s easy to understand foot traffic trends to new areas and get ahead of emerging markets. 


More and more software platforms are looking for trusted sources of GPS data to add to their products. Some applications include ad tech platforms, real estate software, insurance quote platforms, and predictive AI tools. 

Working with GPS Data

gps data intelligence

For developers and data scientists, manipulating GPS data requires a unique skill set. Here, we will cover the necessary tools, programming languages, and techniques needed to work with this complex data type.

Preparing the Data

The first step in working with GPS data is data cleansing, ensuring that the input data is correct and ready for analysis. This could include handling data errors, filtering out anomalies, and converting data into the appropriate format. With Unacast, GPS data goes through a rigorous process of deduplicating, cleansing, and merging billions of data points. Learn more about our methodology.

Analyzing GPS Data

Once the data is prepared, analysis can provide insights into movement patterns, peak visitation times, popular routes, and consumer behavior. Geospatial analytics tools and techniques such as clustering and spatial modeling are instrumental here. Unacast’s location analytics solution makes it easy to identify these kinds of insights, with the heavy data lifting work already done for you. 

Visualizing Spatial Data

Communicating insights from GPS data often requires visualizations. Maps, heatmaps, and 3D visualizations can bring patterns to life and make complex information easily digestible. The Unacast Insights platform provides visual and contextual information right out of the box, without needing to manipulate the underlying data.

Top GPS Data Providers

When it comes to sourcing GPS data, the options are abundant. We'll explore some of the leading providers and the unique data sets they offer.


With a focus on precision and depth, Unacast offers GPS data solutions to meet every stage of the data analytics journey. From the most complex, enterprise-level location data to the most easy, instantly accessible location insights, Unacast has a solution for everyone.

Gravy Analytics

Gravy Analytics specializes in global, enterprise-level GPS data with more than 1 billion devices captured monthly. With a focus on government and software applications, Gravy Analytics is another best-in-class solution.


For businesses looking for point of interest data, Safegraph is an ideal solution. Continuous data collection and monthly updates deliver the most current, reliable global POI dataset available.

Unacast: The Gold Standard in GPS Data

Among the myriad of providers, Unacast stands out for its commitment to GDPR-compliant, high-quality GPS data. Our transparent approach and rigorous data validation processes make us a trusted partner for businesses seeking to harness the full power of location data.


GPS data is more than a tool for navigation; it’s a window into the collective movement of the global population. By understanding how to work with GPS data, you can join the ranks of businesses that are leveraging this information to innovate, optimize, and create value.


How Accurate Is GPS Data?

The accuracy of GPS data can vary depending on the devices and the environment in which they operate. In ideal conditions, GPS devices can provide location data within a few meters.

Is GPS Data Ethical?

The ethical use of GPS data is a hot topic, given its potential to infringe on privacy. Ensuring data is pseudonymized and used with consent is crucial to maintaining ethical practices. Unacast is stringent in enforcing privacy compliance and ensuring its data is opt-in only.

What Are Some Future Trends in GPS Data?

With the rise of 5G technology and IoT, we can expect even more precise and real-time GPS data. Additionally, as the technology matures, we will likely see an expansion of use-cases across all industries that include AI and predictive analytics.

Want a foot traffic data sample?

Put Unacast's foot traffic data to the test.

Get Started


No items found.

Book a Meeting

Meet with us and put Unacast’s data to the test.
bird's eye view of the city