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How Phone Tracking Works: Position, Location, & GPS

Cell phone GPS tracking is a revolutionary technology that has been changing the way people communicate and find locations, both in the present day and in the future. It’s an incredibly powerful system that has made it easier to track objects, businesses, people, and phones via their location. Learn more about how this technology works and its importance here.

For a more in-depth understanding of how Google Tracks your location click here

What is GPS Tracking?

GPS tracking works by using a network of satellites that orbit the Earth and transmit signals to GPS receivers on the ground.

The GPS receiver calculates its own location by triangulating its position based on the strength and timing of the signals it receives from multiple satellites. The GPS receiver can then transmit this location information to a computer or other device, either in real-time or at regular intervals.

GPS tracking devices come in a variety of forms, including handheld devices, vehicle-mounted devices, and devices that can be placed in or on an object or person.

Some GPS tracking devices are standalone units that can be used on their own, while others require a separate device, such as a smartphone or tablet, to display the location information.

In order to track an object or person using GPS, the GPS tracking device must be turned on and able to receive satellite signals. The device must also be within range of a sufficient number of satellites in order to determine its location accurately.

How Does GPS Tracking Work?

GPS receivers typically use signals from at least four satellites to calculate their position. This is because the location of the GPS receiver can be determined more accurately by using signals from multiple satellites, rather than just one or two.

The GPS receiver uses the signals from the satellites to triangulate its position based on the time it takes for the signals to reach the receiver, as well as the angles at which the signals arrive.

In general, the more satellites that are visible to the GPS receiver, the more accurate the position calculation will be. However, even with only four satellites, the position accuracy of a GPS receiver can be very good, typically within a few meters.

It’s worth noting that the number of satellites that are visible to a GPS receiver can vary depending on a number of factors, such as the location of the receiver, the time of day, and the weather conditions. If urban environments and mountainous terrain can greatly reduce the number of “visible” satellites which can reduce the accuracy and cause longer wait times while calculating the initial location.

GPS is not the only way you are being tracked

It’s worth understanding that GPS is not the only way of tracking devices, it’s not even the first choice system because it’s extremely computationally expensive! It requires a lot of power to constantly calculate an accurate location based on GPS signals, and this can drain the battery extremely fast.

For example, mobile phones typically use triangulate their location based on the number of cell towers they can see and the signal strength from the towers. They might use a similar process to locate themselves against an internal database of known wifi locations.

Both these methods are faster and require less computation!

How does GPS tracking work without the internet?

Yes! GPS signals are emitted from a network of satellites and much like your radio does not need access to the internet your phone or GPS-enabled device does not need access to the internet in order to calculate your location. No cell service is required!

Does GPS work everywhere?

Yes! GPS works everywhere. While there will be differences in how many satellites are visible to your GPS receiver depending on your time and location GPS works everywhere!

There is a clue to this in the acronym GPS stands forGlobal Position System” and it is one of the many Global Navigation Satellite Systems ( GNSS ) orbiting earth.

GPS tracking – some real-world examples

Fleet management and vehicle tracking

GPS is commonly used for fleet management and vehicle tracking because it allows businesses to track the location and movement of their vehicles in real-time. This can be useful for a variety of purposes, such as improving efficiency, reducing fuel costs, and ensuring the safety and security of the vehicles and drivers.

There are several ways in which GPS can be used for fleet management and vehicle tracking:

  1. Vehicle tracking: GPS tracking devices can be installed in vehicles to monitor their location, speed, and movements. This information can be displayed on a map or dashboard and can be used to track the progress of a vehicle, optimize routes, and identify areas where the vehicle may be idling unnecessarily.
  2. Driver behavior: GPS tracking can be used to monitor the behavior of drivers, such as how fast they are driving, how hard they are braking, and whether they are making any sudden or sharp turns. This can help fleet managers identify any issues with driver behavior that may be contributing to accidents or inefficiencies.
  3. Maintenance and repair: GPS tracking can be used to monitor the performance of vehicles and alert fleet managers when maintenance or repairs are needed. This can help to reduce downtime and ensure that vehicles are operating at peak efficiency.
  4. Safety and security: GPS tracking can be used to monitor the safety of vehicles and drivers, such as by alerting fleet managers if a vehicle is involved in an accident or if a driver is driving erratically. GPS tracking can also help to deter theft and protect against unauthorised use of vehicles.

Personal tracking and safety

GPS tracking can be used for personal tracking and safety in a variety of ways, including:

  1. Tracking the location of children or elderly relatives: GPS tracking devices can be placed on the person or in their belongings to allow caregivers or family members to track their location and ensure their safety. This can be particularly useful for children who are walking or biking to school, or for elderly relatives who may be at risk of wandering or getting lost.
  2. Tracking the location of outdoor enthusiasts: GPS tracking devices can be used by hikers, bikers, and other outdoor enthusiasts to track their location and share it with friends and family. This can provide peace of mind and allow others to track the person’s progress or come to their aid if needed.
  3. Personal safety apps: There are many smartphone apps that use GPS tracking to help people stay safe while they are out and about. These apps may allow users to set up “safety zones” or “geofences” that will trigger an alert if the user leaves the designated area, or they may allow users to send an emergency alert if they feel threatened or in danger.
  4. Wearable GPS tracking devices: There are also wearable GPS tracking devices that can be used for personal tracking and safety. These devices may be worn as a watch or bracelet, and they can be used to track the location of the wearer and send alerts if they are in danger or if they go off course.

Geotagging – associating location information with photos or other media

Geotagging refers to the process of attaching location information to a photo, video, or other piece of media. This can be done using GPS technology, which allows the location of the media to be recorded at the time it was taken.

There are several ways that GPS tracking can be used for geotagging:

  1. Smartphones and cameras: Many smartphones and digital cameras come with GPS capability built-in, which allows them to automatically record the location of the media as it is being taken. This location information can then be attached to the media file and stored along with it.
  2. Social media: Geotagging can be used on social media platforms to allow users to tag the location of their photos or posts. This can be useful for sharing the location of a restaurant, landmark, or other point of interest with friends and followers.
  3. Travel and tourism: Geotagging can be used to help tourists explore a new location by showing the location of photos and other media on a map. This can be useful for finding points of interest, such as restaurants, attractions, or landmarks.
  4. Real estate: Geotagging can be used in real estate to help buyers get a better sense of the location of a property. Photos of the property can be geotagged to show the location on a map, and virtual tours can be enhanced with geolocation information to give a more immersive experience.
  5. Environmental monitoring: Geotagging can be used to help researchers and conservationists track and monitor the location of wildlife, plants, and other environmental phenomena. By attaching location information to media such as photos or videos, it is possible to create a record of the location and movements of these subjects over time.
  6. Advertising: Geotagging can be used in advertising to target ads to specific locations. For example, a business may use geotagging to show ads for their products or services only to users who are located within a certain radius of their store.

Privacy Considerations With GPS Tracking

GPS tracking can be a powerful tool, but it can also raise privacy concerns if it is not used responsibly. Here are a few privacy considerations to keep in mind when it comes to GPS tracking:

  1. Informed consent: It is important to obtain the informed consent of anyone who is being tracked using GPS. This means that the person being tracked should be aware of the tracking and should have the opportunity to opt-in or opt-out of the tracking.
  2. Data security: GPS tracking generates data that can be sensitive, such as location information. It is important to ensure that this data is secure and is not accessed by unauthorized individuals or entities.
  3. Data retention: It is also important to consider how long GPS tracking data is retained. In some cases, it may be necessary to retain data for a longer period of time in order to comply with legal requirements or for other purposes. However, it is important to balance the need to retain data with the need to protect privacy.
  4. Transparency: It is important to be transparent about the use of GPS tracking, including how the data is collected, how it is used, and who has access to it. This can help to build trust and ensure that people feel comfortable with the tracking.
  5. Legal compliance: It is important to ensure that GPS tracking is carried out in compliance with all relevant laws and regulations, including laws related to privacy, data protection, and surveillance.

In Summary

GPS tracking is a technology that uses a network of satellites to determine the location of a GPS receiver on the ground.

The receiver calculates its position by triangulating the signals it receives from multiple satellites, and it can transmit this location information to a computer or other device.

GPS tracking can be used in a variety of forms, including handheld devices, vehicle-mounted devices, and devices that can be placed in or on an object or person.

GPS tracking is commonly used for fleet management and vehicle tracking, personal tracking and safety, navigation, geotagging, and a variety of other applications.

There are also privacy considerations to keep in mind when it comes to GPS tracking, such as obtaining informed consent, ensuring data security, retaining data for appropriate periods of time, being transparent about tracking, and complying with relevant laws and regulations.

GPS signals can be used to track devices even without an internet connection, and GPS works everywhere. Other systems, such as cell tower triangulation and wifi location databases, can also be used to track devices, but GPS is often the most accurate method.

About the Author
I'm Daniel O'Donohue, the voice and creator behind The MapScaping Podcast ( A podcast for the geospatial community ). With a professional background as a geospatial specialist, I've spent years harnessing the power of spatial to unravel the complexities of our world, one layer at a time.