Lost Cell Phone GPS Tracking Explained

by Joe Mueller on February 1, 2010

Almost everyone has had the experience of misplacing or losing their cell phone. We also all know what it is like to search and search for our lost cell phone in the hope of finding in some obvious or not so obvious spot. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was some way to leverage a cell phones built in GPS technology to help it “find” itself? Lost cell phone GPS tracking is real and is a very powerful and efficient way for people to recover their mobile phones once thy have misplaced them.

This article is going to attempt to give an introduction to how GPS locates cell phones in the world and how this information can be used by owners to find their lost cell phone.

GPS: What Is It?

The Global Positioning System (of which GPS is the acronym) is a network of satellites that orbit the earth and specialized receivers here on earth that interact with each other. The system was developed by the US military in an effort to get a better understanding of where their forces were at any given moment and has been around fro several decades. It was made available to the public under President Ronald Reagan and since then there has been an explosion in the use of GPS technology by regular citizens. We are all familiar with GPS navigation technology, and this is one of the most prolific uses of GPS in the consumer market.

The way GPS works is through a mathematical principle called trilateration. The simple explanation of trilateration is this – if you know where three things are in the world and you know your distance from each of those things then you can figure out exactly where you are. If that doesn’t make much sense then just take a look at the picture to the right. You can know where Point B is in the world if you know where P1, P2, and P3 are.

The world of the Global Positioning Systems, the satellites that orbit the earth are represented like P1, P2, and P3 in our picture above. These satellites emit a signal through the air the travels at a certain speed. This signal contains information like the time that it was sent and a uniquely identifying id. This information is then process by a GPS receiver, which is the same as point B in the picture above. The receiver takes the information sent by the satellites and finds out its distance from each of P1, P2, and P3. It then does some fancy math and finds out exactly where it is right now.

Some GPS receivers that are used for navigation will then show the user this data in map form so that they can know where they are. GPS tracking devices will take the data and send it out over a cell phone network (GSM tracker) or over a communicate satellite (satellite tracker). Still other devices, known as data loggers will simply store the data on its hard drive for download at a later time. Whatever GPS device you are using, they all work of this same principle of trilateration and all fit into the same category.

GPS In Cell Phones

A few years ago GPS receivers began to find their way into cell phones. Then there was a move by the federal government that required cell phone carriers develop a way to help them find out the location that 9-1-1 phone calls made from cell phone originated. The carriers had the option then of using their own GSM networks to create a tracking system based off of the same principle as the GPS network. Some carriers went with this option. Other carriers decided to go ahead and put GPS in cell phones that they were going to provide to their customers.

There are a lot of different things that people use GPS in cell phones now these days. The first and most obvious is navigation. Almost everyone likes to get turn by turn directions spoken to them, especially when traveling in new and unknown places. Cell phone navigation has become to prevalent that some industry experts suspect that the cell phone is going to surpass the PND (Personal Navigation Device) as the navigation device of choice in just a few years time.

Cell phone GPS is also used for all sorts of fun apps and internet surfing features. If you want to know of good restaurants that are near you right now, there are internet searches and apps for that. If you would love to find out the prices of homes in your neighborhood then there is a real estate GPS tracking app for that too. There are literally tons and tons of different ways that GPS is being used by everyday people for any number of normal activities. It is safe to say that GPS receivers in cell phone are making the world a thoroughly more navigable place.

GPS Tracking of Cell Phones

But this article is about lost cell phone GPS tracking, not about all the cool things that GPS is doing for cell phone technology. So to help us understand how GPS can help us find lost cell phones a quick word needs to be said about the GPS tracking of cell phones. A brief definition of GPS tracking should be given: GPS tracking is the ability to track the location of a person, vehicle, or object as it moves throughout the world. There are two types of GPS tracking, passive and active. Active tracking occurs in real time and lets you find out where something is right now. Passive GPS tracking has to do with data loggers, which find out your position and then store it on the device for use later when you can download the information into some tracking software.

Anyway, the tracking available in cell phones is real time GPS tracking – and this is important because it will allow you to use it in order to find a lost cell phone. It would work something like this. You download a GPS tracking application onto your cell phone from among one of the many different free GPS tracking applications or software available. Once it is downloaded and installed you just keep it running on your phone so that you will have a running GPS log of your location. If you ever lose your cell phone, you can find out the last place it was when the battery still had a charge.

In order to use your GPS to help find your lost cell phone you need to have the following conditions met:

  1. Your cell phone must be turned on.
  2. You must have a GPS tracking application installed on your phone.
  3. The tracking app must be running. This will ensure that the GPS is actively reading signals from the satellites in order to find out its location. It will also then send that information over the cell phone network so that you can view it on the internet.
  4. Your cell phone must be receiving signals from satellites. If your phone is buried beneath 100 feet of concrete then there is no hope of finding it!
  5. Your cell phone must be getting a signal from cell phone towers. If it is not then you will not have a method of sending information to the Internet for you to look at it.

If you meet all of these criteria then you should be able to find a lost cell phone with GPS tracking.

We have also included a larger list of apps that you can download to smart phones of several different varieties. Just check out our post about free GPS cell phone trackers.

Ways to Use It

One of the most important ways that this technology can be used is to help children keep track of their cell phones. GPS cell phones for kids are great because they provide excellent safety for our children, but they are no good to use or to them if they lose them. If you need to know where their lost mobile phone is just log onto the computer and figure it out.

The same is true for businessmen who have a cell phone with all their work contacts and email on it. If they were to lose this device it could disastrous for their next sales call if not for their entire career. If they have GPS tracking installed on their Blackberry then they should have no problem finding their phone and avoiding certain disaster.

If you would like more information on how to use your cell phone to find itself, please check out How to Find a Lost Cell Phone with GPS Tracking. It should provide you with some helpful tips on what you should do and give you some ideas of the different programs available for use in this type of tracking.

GPS tracking works great in cell phones. Their small, light-weight nature makes them a perfect fit for the way that most people live their lives. It also is the perfect vehicle for tracking because it is connected to GSM cell phone networks, giving them the ability to send large amounts of information long distances almost instantly. This could not be done with standard telephones. Telephone GPS tracking wouldn’t even make any sense since they are static and do not move anywhere.

Do you have any helpful tips for people trying to utilize lost cell phone GPS tracking?

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Peter @ GPS Tracking Device Blog April 17, 2010 at 10:40 am

This is a great explanation of the GPS technology. Even though GPS devices have been around for quite a while, many people still don’t quite understand how it works and – more importantly – how to make it work for THEM.

Reply

2 Pam December 9, 2010 at 4:58 pm

You may want to use the word “lose” instead of “loose” when talking about something that has been lost. Loose can be used to describe baggy pants.

Reply

3 Joe December 9, 2010 at 6:39 pm

Hey Pam,

Thanks for the typo help! I have made the changes, but before I did I wanted to make sure that I couldn’t get by with a verbal reading of loose than the adjectival reading that you took. It makes some sense with this reading (for example, “GPS cell phones for kids are great because they provide excellent safety for our children, but they are no good to us or to them if they loose, or free/unfasten, them”), but in all it works better to use the word I was actually intending to use. :)

- Joe

Reply

4 Sherri June 9, 2012 at 8:15 pm

Greeting JOE,
let me first warn you I am new to this big world they call the Interent. So what I know about the internet wont fill a thimble. I have just purchased a Smart Phone a couple of hours ago and yes I Have already lost or Missed Placed my Phone I think the WiFi is turned on but I know I dont have any of this Neat Application that sound like will be saving my Beacon in the Future. Any dvice at all other than hanging myself from the USB Cord that came with the Phone?
Help Me PLEASE,
from Lost and Desperate!

Reply

5 Joe October 16, 2012 at 5:10 am

Hi Sherri,

Please don’t hang yourself!

You might want to just start with some of the old fashioned phone finding techniques – think about the last time you remember having it and work your way back to that point in time. Check where you were. Try calling your new number from a land line. If none of these work, then try going the app route.

If you have an Android phone (likely if you bought a Smartphone in America and its not an iPhone) you can install an app on it called Plan B. We did an extensive review of the app that you can find here: Plan B Tracking App Review

You will find everything from how accurate the results where in our test to how to install the app onto your phone when you don’t even know where it is! I hope that helps.

- Joe

Reply

6 brijesh June 19, 2014 at 9:42 am

Dear Sir
my mobile no 9936028809 theft i request to you last call & location Details provided

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: