Understanding Real Time GPS Vehicle Tracking

We are living in an increasingly complex world where we are constantly bombarded with massive amounts of information every day.  Our world is not so simple as it once was, and while technology can be a great assistance to us in our endeavors to understand the world around us it can also be a hindrance.  Some technology is better left undiscovered by those that would seek to use it, the complexity that it takes to understand its function being too much for some people.  Luckily, real time GPS vehicle tracking is not this type of technology.

It is relatively easy to understand, and can be reduced to overly simplistic terms extremely well.  Even thought it makes use of some the most complex and powerful technology that the 21st century has to offer, the actual function of the technology itself is easily intelligible and intuitive. You can understand real time tracking without having to have the smallest bit of technical understanding. It may appear to work “magically” to some people, but it can be relied upon in its “magic.” The information it provides is easily translatable, meaning that people of all positions and stations can understand what the GPS tracking system is communicating.

Real Time Vehicle Tracking Basics

Even though you don’t need to understand much about how a real time GPS vehicle tracking system works in order to get some benefit from it, it is still a good idea to try and understand the way this technology works so that we can better ascertain its limitations and costs. We need to be thoughtful consumers if the things we buy are to have the maximum amount of positive impact on our lives or our business.

With all things GPS, we should start with the Global Positioning Satellites that orbit the earth. There are over 20 of these satellites continuously transmitting data on a specific radiowave frequency that can be read by specialized receivers. The information contained in these transmissions is critical for how portable GPS devices are able to calculate their position. The data contained is the position of the satellite and the time that the transmission was sent.

Once a GPS device has received enough of these signals (3 signals from 3 different satellites) it is then able to calculate its position using a process called trilateration. What it does is it takes the know location of three or more objects, in this case the GPS satellites, and uses the known distance from these locations, which is calculated by taking the amount of time between when the GPS signal was transmitted and when it was “heard” by the GPS tracking device and then multiplying that time by the speed of the radiowave, to find out exactly where the GPS device you are holding is.  It is a little complicated when talked about this way, but it is actually quiet easy to understand when properly explained.

This video does a great job of communicating the basic principles of how a GPS device figures out its position (it is made for kids, but the information is great):

The acting in this film is, in a word, terrible, but the information contained within it is pretty informative if you ask me.

Now that we understand how a GPS device calculates its position we now need to understand what give real time GPS vehicle tracking its real time component. After all, such things as GPS navigation, golf GPS, and data logging GPS do not have a real time component to their GPS capabilities. So what makes real time GPS tracking real time?

The answer to this question is found in cell phone technology.  Once a GPS tracking device has figured out its location it needs to be able to communicate that data to a third party so that tracking can occur in real time.  Otherwise the device is just a simple GPS data logger.  While some GPS tracking systems also employ radio signals to transmit the data to a tracking unit (such as the Garmin Astro GPS pet tracking system), this is not the norm and is not really feasible for vehicle tracking applications.  GPS vehicle tracking depends on cell phone technology to transmit the data from unit to server where it can then be processed by GPS tracking software.

Because real time vehicle tracking depends on both GPS signals from above and on cell phone signals from below there are some limitations to its ability to track a vehicle.  One of them is that if they are obstructed from receiving a signal from the GPS satellite then they cannot be tracked.  While GPS receivers have grown considerably in strength over the last several decades, there are still some issues with being able to receive a signal in some conditions.  Extremely inclement weather, traveling under ground in a tunnel, or even navigating amidst tower sky scrapers can affect your GPS’s ability to get a lock on your location. A-GPS (Assisted GPS) tries to mitigate these problems by getting help from cell phone signals and has proven to be more accurate than simple GPS, but even that is not fool proof.

The second limitation for a real time GPS tracker is the need for a constant connection to the cell phone grid. If a device looses cell phone reception is no longer is effective at being a real time tracker. There are several things that could result in a signal being lost, but the most common are that the area is remote and has not access to cell phone towers or that the terrain interferes with the signal, like in a gully or ravine.

Another thing about relying on a cell phone grid is that you generally have to pay extra fees for using it. Most real time tracking systems are going to come with a monthly subscription fee that can run you anywhere from $9.99 to $50 depending on how many location requests you make or the capabilities of your providers GPS tracking software. This can be a real back breaker for those that have barely enough to fork out the considerable up front device purchase price.

But if you can stomach the expense and have a need for GPS vehicle tracking then adding a real time tracker to your repertoire is going to be very nice. They are very powerful at what they do, and if you plan on tracking a vehicle that mainly uses the urban landscape for its activities you should have no problem getting a real time, 24/7 picture of the vehicles activities. If you can hardwire the real time GPS vehicle tracking device to the car or truck then you should continuous tracking capabilities. This set up is particularly useful for fleet tracking, car tracking, and teen tracking.

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