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How do GPS trackers work?

Anyone who owns a car or phone has benefited from using GPS. This tech has slowly integrated itself into every modern technology and has quickly become an integral part of our lives. So, it’s only right that we get to know more about the small device that has tremendous influence.

Gone are the days of fleet managers manually calling their transporters to find out where they are, motorists using an old map to see where the nearest garage station is and the old-school method of driving without an AI telling us the exact distance we still have to travel.

GPS tracking devices are here to stay. They offer a range of benefits that seem to suit every individual, business and industry alike. To better appreciate this technology, let's dive into what exactly makes GPS tracking tick. 

The technology behind tracking

The Global Positioning System, or simply GPS, is primarily used to track cars, assets, pets, and even people. It accomplishes this by integrating the use of tracking units, satellites and signals. 

What exactly does that mean? Let’s unpack it: 

For a vehicle to be tracked, a portable GPS device would be discreetly fitted by a qualified installer. An app would be installed on your mobile phone or laptop and be connected to the device, so you can see the tracked asset on your screen anytime you want.

Modern GPS trackers do more than just show you a moving dot on a map, they can provide real-time information on both the vehicle and events surrounding it. Thanks to the vehicle data collected and telematics, the device can inform you about the speed, location and driver behaviour.

GPS trackers

 For a GPS tracker to work, the use of modern tech is needed: satellites, signals and, of course, a GPS tracking device. These three things come together to create the global tracking system we commonly use today.

A network of 24 satellites orbiting around Earth is used to specify the location of an object or person attached to the GPS device by sending signals to the satellites. The physical location of the device is found based on just three GPS satellite receivers tracking the device's position, time, space, and speed. This whole process is called trilateration.

Trilateration is simply the process of measuring distances. To find your exact location, three satellites are used to calculate your distance from each one. Using these three distances, trilateration can pinpoint your precise location.

The installation and use of the GPS network require extreme precision, which only trilateration can provide. Trilateration is used by portable gadgets like smartphones, in-car navigation systems, aeroplane navigation and much more. 

Typically, a GPS tracker uses the same technology that some cellular networks run on, the Global System for Mobiles (GSM). This technology is what makes real-time location possible.

The three elements of GPS

GPS is made up of three different components, called segments, that work together to provide a three-dimensional position and send information based on the tracked object.

The three elements of GPS tracking are:

1. Space

This element is the satellites that are used to track the vehicle. These satellites circle the Earth, transmitting signals to users’ geographical positions.

Of the 27 satellites circling the Earth, only 24 are operational, and three are backup satellites, used if one of the 24 fails to receive or send out signals. The signals sent out are then received by various GPS receivers.

2. Ground control

The control element is the computer or device that controls the satellites in space. 

The control element is made up of monitor stations, master control stations and ground antennas scattered across the world. Monitoring satellite transmissions and tracking satellites in space are the main duties of ground control.

3. User 

GPS receivers could be everyday gadgets like watches, smartphones, and other devices that are connected to the tracking device.

To increase the accuracy of its position, these receivers receive signals sent by at least three GPS satellites and convert the signals into data that shows velocity, time, and position.

Types of GPS trackers

Within the three elements of GPS tracking, there are two types of ways GPS can give you information on the tracked object. If you're looking to invest in a GPS tracking device, it's important to know which type would suit your business or individual needs.

Active tracking or two-way GPS: This is an on-the-go tracking system that automatically sends information to central tracking portals as it happens. This can be used to monitor the movements of people and vehicles as well as monitor employee behaviour, as they give you real-time information on where they are at all times.

Passive tracking: This stores information within the GSP system itself. They log data on where the devices have been and store the data either internally or on a memory card. The data can then be downloaded to a computer, or phone, to be analysed later.

Not all tracking devices work the same or provide users with the same benefits. It all depends on what you need. So ask yourself, are you looking for simple vehicle tracking software commonly used by everyday motorists? Or do you want tracking software that gives you actionable cost-saving insights that could help your business?

Who typically uses GPS trackers?

Anybody that cares about their assets and wants to keep their valued possessions safe should look into the extra safety benefits of tracking devices.

Through the years, GPS tracking devices have started to pop up in numerous industries worldwide. It’s safe to say these devices have become a necessity in almost every business that transports, takes care of assets, or provides a service to the public.

Owners of large fleets, for example, use this tech to easily locate fleet vehicles while implementing driver safety and monitoring driver behaviour as well as driving patterns.

Monthly fee for a GPS tracker?

You don't have to pay a monthly fee for the standard GPS feature that everyone uses to navigate cities and avoid heavy traffic. However, for more actionable, cost-saving insights like GPS trackers, a monthly tracking fee is needed to fully operate. This includes vehicle monitoring, tracking and stolen vehicle recovery services.

The days of GPS trackers having one primary purpose are long gone, today's tracking services do more than simply plot a vehicle, person, or cargo on a map. As a result, they have become more expensive over the years.

GPS tracking for vehicles

These are referred to as ‘vehicle tracking devices.’ Their monitoring abilities are seen as valuable technology used in multiple industries around the world.

The benefits of having your assets tracked 24/7, being able to retrieve them if lost and monitoring the conditions of said assets are only a few of the advantages seen and applied to one of the biggest industries in the world– fleet management.

You can also benefit from other features that allow you to:

Locate your fleet of vehicles anywhere in the world

  • Make your vehicles less vulnerable to theft 
  • Real-time insight into who is driving and how they are driving
  • Enhance driving behaviour and safety measures
  • Improve fleet productivity

Ever since fleet managers integrated GPS technology into their daily fleet monitoring, it has been a game-changer for the industry and profession, transforming it into a multi-billion dollar corporation.

Fleet managers use real-time data generated by telematics technology to monitor and control driver behaviour as well as make the necessary modifications to increase safety and save operating expenses. These fleet managers can better coordinate daily operations, and track mileage for reimbursement or bookkeeping all thanks to telematics.

Do GPS trackers need Wi-Fi?

Since tracking devices can send documents and media to phones and laptops, many people assume it needs to be connected to the Internet to work. Fortunately, that's not the case.

Tracking devices can send data to the cloud, store it in internal memory or use a SIM card that can connect to the internet without the need for Wi-Fi. Since we never know where your lost property might pop up, these alternative methods are essential for easy retrieval.

Most GPS devices also use Global System for Mobile (GSM), cellular networks to function. This is the same technology that people, in some countries, use to make every day phone calls.

Legal do’s and don'ts of GPS trackers

While it's perfectly legal to install a GPS tracker in your vehicle or any possession you own, it is very illegal to install a GPS device on other people’s possessions for tracking, recording, or monitoring purposes.

So, proceed with caution and rather refrain from placing the device in someone else’s possession or doing so without their knowledge, as it's highly illegal, especially if that device can stream a live video of that person.

Consequences for this offence vary from country to country, overseas and in our very own motherland. Keeping updated with the most recent federal, state, and local legislation is your best bet at staying informed about current GPS laws since they always change according to unique cases that arise.

When it comes to fleet management, it's important to operate within the guidelines of the law as one wrong step could jeopardise your business.

Some pointers you should note:

  • GPS tracking devices can legally be used if the asset or vehicle is owned by you or your business.
  • Your employees should be aware that their location is being monitored while making deliveries.

When it comes to tracking, be transparent about when and how you use GPS tracking data. If your employees don't trust or understand how you’re using the data from GPS trackers, it can result in low employee morale or worse, a legal issue.

Fleet management and its tracking software

Fleet managers can save time and energy by simply using available fleet resources and fleet management systems. With the right fleet management technology by their side, they will have access to top fleet operations, such as fleet data, reports, and insights, all in a streamlined, user-friendly and easily understandable format.

Fleet managers on the lookout for efficient ways of improving daily duties should look toward GPS tracking and fleet friendly systems. Telematics and fleet management solutions can make mundane tasks like getting vehicle registration, fuel cards, invoicing, and calculating vehicle expenses more effective. 

The magic of telematics

Telematics does more than just track vehicles, it allows fleet managers to keep tabs on their fleet that’s on the road while providing vital data about driver events as they happen. With its integration of tracking, remote vehicle controls, telecommunications and scheduling, telematics takes fleet management to a whole new level.

Telematics technology can help your company complete jobs with fewer miles, fewer hours, and lower fuel costs. Information about engine performance, fuel efficiency, and mechanical issues is gathered, stored and sent out, giving the fleet manager more than enough info to optimise fuel, get behind vehicle maintenance and ultimately save the business some cash.

GPS trackers and their use in fleet businesses

Any business that occupies more than five vehicles tasked with delivering assets, providing a service or for just about any transporting purposes, can be classified as a fleet company.

So, if fleet optimisation is what they seek, any one of these businesses can use and apply fleet management solutions to their fleet:

GPS in the Military

GPS was originally invented by the military and is currently being used to track troop movements, aircrafts, and sea navigation. For military troops stationed in unfamiliar countries or on the move at night, this is a critical piece of tech.

Delivery Service

What type of delivery service do you own or operate? Do you transport food, flowers, or local packages? Some tracking companies, such as Cartrack, offer fleet management software for businesses that transport perishable goods and meats that could benefit from the use of the temperature tool feature that comes as a standard feature for their fleet packages.

This feature lets you change, regulate and get notified if the temperature ever changes.

Bike Rentals

You’ve probably seen a fleet of bicycles on the sidewalk ready to be rented out in cities. They are usually used as an inexpensive means of getting around for exploring when visiting a city. But there’s no doubt that theft is a concern for bike owners.

GPS will ensure that anyone who rents a bike returns it to its proper location within the allocated time. If the bike is not returned, the GPS device can easily track it down anywhere in the city.

Oil and Gas

Being such a high-stakes industry, it's important to have every piece of machinery present and accounted for at the end of every shift. When these materials are being transported, they must remain secure to protect the driver and other drivers on the road.

One wrong move could mean millions for the company and might jeopardise the safety of the driver. The GPS tracking solutions will allow the location of the vehicle to be monitored and ensure the safety of the drivers, vehicle and transport minerals.

Benefits of GPS tracking and telematics for fleets

These two amazing technology systems work together to make sure a day in the office is as smooth and informative as possible for fleet managers.

Over and above the many advantages mentioned throughout this blog, here are a few more additional benefits to further help you make the right decision: 

  • Improved safety
  • Reduce fuel usage
  • Prevents timesheet fraud
  • Route optimisation
  • Reduced operational cost

Cartrack’s fleet management system

When looking for a partner to help you through and improve your work ethic, look no further than Cartrack. Cartracks’ fleet management solution will not only improve your employee productivity ratings but also those of the other employees that work in different fleet departments.

We offer different packages specifically for fleet managers that can be tailored to your business. Visit our website to find the perfect fleet package with a fleet management system that could take your fleet management skills to the next level. Get a free quote now.

Business or pleasure? Our SARS-compliant logbook does it all from one app.

Anyone who owns a car or phone has benefited from using GPS. This tech has slowly integrated itself into every modern technology and has quickly become an integral part of our lives.

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