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What Is GPS Tracking?

What Is GPS Tracking?

Have you ever wished you could keep an eye on your loved ones, valuables, or business assets with just a few clicks? Welcome to the world of GPS tracking, a powerful technology that simplifies navigation and offers real-time insights into the location of people and objects. As we explore the answer to “What Is GPS Tracking?“, we’ll dive deep into the three essential elements of GPS tracking—satellites, ground control, and receivers—and discover the numerous benefits this technology offers in both personal and professional settings. Get ready to unlock the potential of GPS tracking and revolutionize the way you navigate and manage assets.

TLDR: GPS tracking is a versatile technology that pinpoints the location of people or objects using satellites, ground control, and receivers. It offers valuable applications in navigation, asset management, and safety for both personal and professional purposes.

History of GPS Tracking 

Once President Ronald Reagan issued the directive making GPS freely available for civilian use in the 1980′s, the evolutionary wheels began to turn. The early years of commercial use, up to and including the 1990′s, were limited due to several factors. This included a limited number of GPS chip manufacturers, antiquated and costly microprocessor technology, and an intentionally degraded signal called Selective Availability. The highest quality signals were reserved for the U.S. military while the civilian market was left with a significant variation. The net results were high-cost devices, limited capability, and bulky equipment. At that time, these devices were limited to law enforcement agencies and those willing to sacrifice performance at a high price. The new millennium ushered in an incredible transformation in the GPS tracking industry. President Bill Clinton ordered Selective Availability turned off at midnight on May 1st, 2000. This allowed developers to provide ultra-sensitive and accurate GPS tracking data we see in today’s market.

Three key technologies come together and complement GPS-enabled devices. All three have gone through incredible development growth phases that coincidentally have come together nicely. The microprocessor industry has produced devices that are smaller, faster, and more powerful. Microprocessors provide a platform for system integrators and manufacturers. Since GPS satellites transmit unidirectional signals, customers such as fleet tracking that need to locate assets remotely depend on telecommunications and/or communication satellites. Cellular data communications or General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) is the most common method of viewing remote GPS devices. This is because the cost of cellular data is much more cost-effective than satellite communications. As experienced in the GPS and microprocessor industries, cellular communications have become a reliable and preferred method in mobility.

Fast-forwarding to today, GPS tracking technology has become a staple of daily living. The most popular use, of course, is in-vehicle navigation with many portable versions retailing under $ 100. Many current uses of GPS tracking are transparent to many of us. GPS tracking technology can be found in our cell phones, electric meters attached to our homes, etc. The cost to add GPS receivers in today’s electronics is minimal and provides a manufacturer with a competitive edge. Because of this, more and more devices are equipped with beneficial product features. Although millions of people benefit from GPS tracking technology, law enforcement agencies have become dependent on it. GPS tracking devices help lower their operational costs and provide an incredible evidence tool that did not exist before. Although considered controversial by some as pre-placement warrant requirements are being fought in the courts, nobody can dispute the effectiveness of the technology.

Over the past 30 years, the United States dominated the space segment for global positioning. This will no longer be the case as the Russian Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS) was introduced to civilians in 2007. The Chinese and European Union are also working on their own systems further demonstrating the value GPS technology brings to all of us. Whether you own multiple vehicles needing a fleet tracking solution or are an individual with limited means, GPS tracking technology is an affordable luxury and is here to stay.

Milestones In GPS Tracking History: A Timeline Of Key Events

  • 1973: The U.S. Department of Defense initiates development of the GPS under Project 621B.
  • 1978: The first GPS satellite, NAVSTAR 1, is launched into orbit.
  • 1983: GPS is made available for civilian use after Korean Air Lines Flight 007 is shot down.
  • 1994: The 24th satellite is launched, completing the GPS constellation.
  • 2000: “Selective Availability” is turned off, significantly improving GPS accuracy for civilian use.
  • 2005: The first modernized GPS satellite, with enhanced features, is launched.
  • 2007: The first smartphone with integrated GPS, the iPhone, is introduced by Apple.
  • 2015: The first GPS III satellite, offering improved capabilities, is launched.
  • 2018: The United States launches the first GPS III satellite with enhanced performance features.


GPS Tracking

Explaining The 3 Elements Of GPS Tracking 

1. Satellites

GPS tracking relies on a constellation of satellites that form the Global Positioning System (GPS). These satellites, orbiting the Earth at an altitude of approximately 20,200 kilometers, continuously transmit signals containing information on their position and the precise time the signal was sent. The GPS consists of at least 24 operational satellites, ensuring that GPS receivers can access signals from multiple satellites simultaneously, enabling more accurate positioning.

5 Fun Facts On Satellites

  • Minimum coverage: The GPS system requires a minimum of 24 operational satellites to ensure that at least four satellites are visible from any point on Earth, allowing accurate positioning.
  • Orbits: GPS satellites orbit the Earth at an altitude of about 20,200 kilometers (12,550 miles) and complete two full orbits per day, ensuring global coverage.
  • Atomic clocks: Each GPS satellite is equipped with multiple atomic clocks, which provide highly accurate time measurements. These time measurements are critical for determining precise locations.
  • Signal transmission: GPS satellites continuously transmit radio signals containing their position and time data, which are then picked up by GPS receivers on Earth to calculate their exact location.
  • Satellite replacement: GPS satellites have a lifespan of about 10 to 15 years. To maintain the system’s functionality, older satellites are replaced with newer, more advanced satellites that offer improved performance and features.

2. Ground Control

To maintain the accuracy and reliability of the GPS, the ground control component plays a crucial role. The ground control system consists of a global network of monitoring and control stations. These stations track the signals from GPS satellites, ensuring the satellites are functioning correctly and maintaining the precision of their orbits. The ground control stations also analyze satellite data and transmit any necessary corrections back to the satellites, which then incorporate these corrections into the signals they broadcast. This continuous process of monitoring and adjusting guarantees that the information provided to GPS receivers remains accurate and reliable.

5 Fun Facts On Ground Control Stations

  1. Essential role: Ground stations play a crucial role in maintaining the accuracy of the GPS system by monitoring satellite positions and providing necessary updates.
  2. Global coverage: There are multiple ground stations strategically located across the globe, ensuring continuous communication with satellites and enhancing the reliability of the GPS system.
  3. Space weather monitoring: Ground stations also monitor space weather to assess its impact on GPS signal quality and accuracy, helping maintain optimal performance.
  4. Military origins: The ground control segment of the GPS system was originally designed for military purposes, but its applications have expanded to include civilian use, benefiting a wide range of industries and users.
  5. International cooperation: The ground control infrastructure is not limited to the U.S. GPS system; other global navigation satellite systems, such as Russia’s GLONASS and Europe’s Galileo, also rely on ground stations to maintain their respective constellations.

3. Receivers

The third key element in GPS tracking is the receiver. GPS receivers, found in a wide range of devices such as smartphones, navigation devices, and dedicated GPS tracking units, are designed to collect the signals transmitted by GPS satellites. By picking up signals from multiple satellites and calculating the time it took for each signal to travel from the satellite to the receiver, the GPS receiver can determine its precise location using a process called trilateration. This location data can then be used for various purposes, including navigation, asset tracking, and fleet management.

5 Fun Facts On GPS Receivers 

  1. First handheld GPS: The first handheld GPS receiver, the Magellan NAV 1000, hit the market in 1989, paving the way for portable navigation devices.
  2. GPS in smartphones: Modern smartphones have built-in GPS receivers, making location-based services and apps accessible to millions of users worldwide.
  3. Animal tracking: GPS receivers are used in wildlife conservation efforts to track animal movements, study migration patterns, and help protect endangered species.
  4. Geocaching: The popular outdoor recreational activity, geocaching, relies on GPS receivers to locate hidden containers, or “geocaches,” fostering a worldwide treasure-hunting community.
  5. GPS art: GPS receivers enable “GPS drawing” or “GPS art,” where users create digital images by recording their movements with a GPS receiver and then display the tracked paths on a map.

How GPS Tracking Works In Car

A GPS tracker is used to gather low-level radio signals from the network of satellites orbiting the Earth and use those signals to determine a wealth of data related to location and position. After recording the meticulous data directly to an onboard GPS receiver or transmitting the information to an off-site computer server all of the information can then instantly be accessed by a computer, mobile device, or tablet with Internet capabilities. The GPS tracking data can be transmitted via a cellular data module embedded in the GPS tracker or an alternative source such as a radio. GPS tracking data gathered and stored in the car GPS tracking device can include information such as speed, altitude, longitude positions, latitude positions, times en route, times departed, and more.

When placed in an area with ideal reception, a quality GPS tracker can be accurate up to 2.5 meters, or approximately 6 feet.

What Are The Benefits Of GPS Tracking?

Whether you’re using a GPS data logger or a real-time tracking device, GPS trackers offer numerous benefits across various aspects of life. For individuals, GPS tracking technology ensures safety and security for children, teens, and the elderly. In the business realm, vehicle tracking devices enhance fleet management, document tax-deductible mileage, and establish a system for holding employees accountable both inside and outside the office. Here are some advantages you can enjoy when using a GPS tracking device:

  1. Real-time location tracking: Monitor the exact location of assets, vehicles, or people, providing up-to-date information for informed decision-making.
  2. Improved driver safety: Monitor driver behavior, identify unsafe practices, and implement corrective measures to enhance safety on the road.
  3. Efficient route planning: Optimize routes based on traffic, distance, and other factors, saving time and fuel costs.
  4. Asset recovery: Quickly locate and recover stolen or misplaced assets, reducing loss and insurance costs.
  5. Enhanced fleet management: Streamline fleet operations by monitoring vehicle usage, maintenance needs, and driver performance.
  6. Reduced operational costs: Improve fuel efficiency and vehicle maintenance by monitoring driving habits, leading to cost savings.
  7. Increased productivity: Ensure timely deliveries and task completion by tracking progress and eliminating unauthorized usage of assets.
  8. Better customer service: Provide accurate ETAs, reduce response times, and offer better overall customer experiences.
  9. Data-driven decision-making: Collect and analyze GPS data to identify areas of improvement and make informed business decisions.
  10. Emergency response: Facilitate search and rescue operations by providing accurate location information during emergencies.

Top 10 GPS Tracking FAQs

When it comes to GPS tracking technology there are a lot of questions that people have, especially as it relates to tracking a vehicle. Below are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding GPS tracking devices along with answers to help demystify GPS technology.

How can I track my car with GPS?

Tracking a car is actually quite simple with real time GPS trackers. First, place a car tracking device on the automobile you want to track. Then use a GPS app for iPhone or other smartphones to remotely track the car by accessing the real time GPS tracking data.

Is it against the law to remove a GPS tracking device on car?

If you own your vehicle and there is a GPS tracker on your car then you can absolutely remove the device. However, some car dealerships use GPS vehicle tracking devices for repo if a person fails to make payments and those should not be removed. Businesses that equip company vehicles with GPS trackers also use GPS tracking technology to monitor mobile assets and improve fleet management. Removal of a GPS tracker from a company vehicle most likely will result in employment termination.

How much does a GPS tracker cost?

The best no monthly fee GPS tracker will cost around $199.00, whereas the best real time GPS tracker for car will cost approximately $299.00 not including a monthly data plan.

How long does a GPS tracker battery last?

The longest battery life on a real time GPS tracker will provide roughly 80-100 hours of consecutive driving time when operating as a portable device (not connected to car OBDii or 12volt). The GPS data logger with the longest battery life currently provides approximately 60 hours of consecutive driving time.

Does a GPS tracker need a SIM card?

All live GPS tracking devices require a SIM card because they use cell towers to transmit real time locations. No monthly fee GPS trackers are popular because they do not require a SIM card because you download data from the tracking device to see everywhere a vehicle has been.

How much does it cost to install a GPS tracking device?

Most GPS tracking devices function as portable systems that can easily be hidden on a car. The next option would be to plug the car GPS tracker into the OBDii port to pull power from the automobile being tracked. Using a GPS tracker this way requires no installation. However, if a person wants to connect a real time GPS tracker to the 12-volt system of a car they would need to contact a local audio alarm business which will charge around $75-$100 to install a GPS tracking device to the automobile.

Does car GPS require subscription?

Real time GPS tracker requires a monthly subscription due to the fact they need cell towers to transmit position data. On the other hand, GPS data loggers do not require a subscription because they simply store GPS tracking data in internal memory where it can be downloaded later via a USB port.

How can I use GPS tracker on my Android phone?

Once a GPS tracker is equipped on the vehicle you want to track simply use the free GPS app to view both historical driving records and real time updates on automobile activity. Those who do not wish to use a GPS tracking app for Android can simply log in to the secure website housing the GPS tracking data and view it that way.

How much does it cost to have a tracker fitted to your car?

Hidden GPS tracker for car are manufactured with a waterproof housing and an outside magnet mount. Therefore, they do not require precise fitting on the dashboard like a GPS navigation system. Instead, you place a GPS tracker on your car’s dashboard, hide it inside the glove box, or attach it underneath the automobile!

How do you know if you have a tracker on your car?

GPS tracking devices can be plugged into the OBD-II port, hard-wired to the 12-volt system behind the dashboard, or remotely placed in various locations throughout a car. Since car GPS trackers are designed with highly sensitive internal antennas the devices can be hidden very easily on a vehicle without a driver ever knowing.

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