GPS Tracking Buying Guide
You’ve probably heard about GPS tracking technology. But how can you personally use it, and how does it work? Understanding the fundamentals of this technology will help you make an informed decision when it comes to purchasing a unit that’s right for your specific needs.
GPS tracking has become increasingly popular in the past couple of years. Previously out of reach for the everyday consumer, the technology was originally designed for law enforcement agents to track criminals. Nowadays, everyone from parents, to employers, and scientists are using GPS tracking for a variety of different applications ranging from ensuring their teen driver’s safety, to tracking the migration of birds and animals.
What is GPS tracking?
A GPS tracker, short for Global Positioning System, is a device that determines the approximate location of a person, vehicle, or other asset using satellite, cellular (aGPS), or radio waves. In its most basic form, a GPS tracker typically communicates with multiple satellites in space. From space, the satellites triangulate the tracker’s approximate location. That means you can put the tracker in a backpack, car, or on a person and determine their location.
Depending on the type of GPS tracker you choose, the places it travels are either stored within the tracker itself to provide a historical record of where the tracker has been, or with a real-time tracker, the location information can be transmitted to a central location or Internet-enabled computer in real-time, as the device moves. Originally popular among law enforcement agents, many businesses have adopted the technology to streamline operations and even by families to keep an eye on their loved ones.
Real-Time v. Passive GPS Trackers
There are two main types of GPS trackers: real-time and passive.
Real-Time GPS Tracker
Like all trackers, a real-time tracker constantly communicates with space satellites to triangulate the tracker’s approximate location. What makes the device real-time is the fact that the device sends all information to the Internet in real-time, where you can log on and monitor the tracker’s progress. Most systems even offer detailed information like time, place, and how fast the tracker is traveling. Originally only used by law enforcement agents tracking a suspect, this technology is now common to employers tracking company vehicles and families tracking new teen drivers or their family car as it moves.
Passive GPS Tracker
The other main type of GPS tracker is a passive tracker or GPS logger. Like a real-time device, these devices constantly communicate with satellites, but instead of transmitting the tracker’s location in real-time, passive GPS trackers store location points within the unit itself. When you’re ready to see where the device has been, you can download a historical record of all places visited. This is ideal for law enforcement during investigation, or someone who loans a car to an employee, or family member and wants to verify that they took the car where they said they did.
As GPS tracking technology becomes smaller and more affordable, it’s becoming available to a much wider spectrum of consumers. Once only available to law enforcement agents tracking suspects or assets, this technology is now available for more consumer-friendly uses for families or businesses.
- Law enforcement
- Business and fleet tracking
- Family tracking
- Teen tracking
GPS tracking technology has transformed the way detectives do their jobs. Once law enforcement agents get a warrant to track a suspect’s car, they can track its movements in real-time or use a passive GPS tracker to confirm a suspect’s whereabouts on a certain time and date. This undeniable account of where a suspect has been at a particular time can immensely help in an investigation.
Business and Fleet Tracking
Both real-time and passive GPS trackers have helped businesses save thousands of dollars and make their businesses more efficient. Especially for businesses that use a fleet of vehicles (everyone from shipping companies to pizza delivery businesses) GPS trackers have been used to analyze routes to improve efficiency and streamline operations. Businesses do this by pinpointing vehicles on the map and rerouting the nearest vehicles to the delivery source on-the-fly. If a business can reroute the nearest vehicle, they’re saving money in time and gas costs. Aside from rerouting, businesses use these devices to pinpoint their employees location and ensure that they are indeed working rather than spending time off route.
Family Safety and GPS Technology
Families have adopted GPS tracking technology as a way to promote child safety. For most parents, it’s the fear of the unknown that makes growing up hard for parents. Letting your child walk to school for the first time alone or take the family car is probably one of the hardest things for a parent to do. What makes GPS tracking so appealing is the fact that parents can give their children independence, while maintaining a level of peace of mind because they can check in on their child anywhere, anytime. For many parents it’s like being there with their kids on the walk home, or in the passenger seat when they take their first solo drive. Both real-time tracking and passive trackers can provide parents with an inside look of where their kids are going, and what they’re doing. Having this information can help parents open up an honest dialogue with their children to maintain their own safety and well being.
Different Types of GPS trackers
There are multiple types of GPS trackers that range from completely portable and wireless devices, to device that wired directly into your car.
Wired GPS Tracking
This type of device is wired directly to your car’s power source and uses the vehicle’s energy to power and charge the tracker. Since the device is wired into the vehicle under the hood, it’s perfect for long-term, covert tracking. The majority of people who use this type of tracker are business owners that manage multiple vehicles within a fleet and want to pinpoint their driver’s locations whether it’s to check on the employee’s whereabouts or to reroute them based on location. More families are adopting wired GPS trackers to track the family car so they don’t have to worry about taking the tracker out to charge it.
- No battery needed – device is wired into your car
- Under the hood and covert
- Real-time tracking
- Ideal for long-term tracking
Wireless GPS Tracking
As GPS trackers become more and more common, we see wireless GPS trackers at the forefront of this technology. Since these devices are battery powered, they can pretty much be set-up right out of the box and used for multiple applications. You can take a wireless GPS tracker and move it from your car, to your child’s backpack without complication. These trackers are widely used by businesses and families alike because they’re so easy-to-use and portable. The devices can be hidden within cars, in backpacks, or stuck on the bottom of a car using a magnetic case. Even law enforcement agents use these types of devices because they can be used in multiple applications quickly and easily. Since these devices don’t run on a vehicle’s power source like their wired GPS tracker cousins, they required a certain amount of charging.
- Wire free
- Battery powered
- Real-time or passive
- Portable and versatile
Passive GPS Logging
A passive GPS logger is a device that stores GPS location points within the tracker itself. Basically, you put the logger in a car, package, or on a person and let them go. When you’re ready to collect the information about everywhere the tracker has been, you can download all the information onto a computer. Usually, these devices plug directly into your computer’s USB port. Many consumers are using these devices to confirm an employee or family member’s previous whereabouts.
- Logs all places visited
- Battery powered
- Portable and versatile
Real-Time GPS Tracking
A real-time GPS tracker provides the user with a real-time account of where the GPS tracker is. You can literally follow the GPS tracker on the map as it moves because it is in constant communication with the satellites in space.
- Check in on your GPS tracker’s location as it moves
- Internet tracking for viewing on your computer or smartphone
AGPS, or Assisted GPS, uses cellular networks to triangulate location and is a feature often combined with a common satellite-based GPS tracker. It can be used alone or to improve an average satellite based GPS trackers. In areas of poor reception like cities and underground parking garages, AGPS systems will work where normal GPS trackers cannot because it uses cellular networks.
- Works where most trackers fail: cities and places where a satellite signal is blocked
How to Implement a GPS Tracker
Depending on the vehicle, wireless or battery powered GPS devices can be attached to several different places. The most common locations are under the driver or passenger’s seats, hidden within the front or back dashboard areas, and inside the glove box. The GPS can only function in these areas of the car because it can transmit a signal through the window. That means if you put the GPS tracker under the hood of your car or in the trunk, the signal will probably be blocked and therefore the device will not work. The same goes for putting the GPS tracker in a metal box or underground storage unit. Remember, the GPS needs open air to send a signal.
Some people choose to put their GPS tracker into a weatherproof case so they can simply attach the tracker to the undercarriage of a car or inside a wheel. The “slap-n-track” technology works because the GPS signal “bounces” or gets reflected off the ground via the space between the bottom of the car and the pavement.
Depending on your needs and what or who you need to track, either a hardwired or wireless/battery powered GPS can help you maintain security, safety, and even improve your business’ efficiency.
Legality of GPS Trackers
When it comes to GPS tracking, there is a fine line between what’s legal, and what’s considered an invasion of privacy. If you are the owner of the object you’re tracking, it is completely within your realm of rights to use a GPS tracker to follow it. For example, if you bought a family car and you want to track it while your dependent teen drives it, that is completely legal – even if you’re not in the car with your teen. On the other hand, if you want to track a girlfriend or boyfriend’s car, that’s a whole other story. Unless you bought the car for your girlfriend or boyfriend, you have no right to track the vehicle.
It is strongly recommended that you contact the office of your States Attorney General prior to conducting any GPS tracking of anyone outside your immediate family. Failure to do so could lead to severe legal consequences.
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