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How Does GPS Tracking Work?

By Verizon Connect December 5, 2020

Today, almost every individual uses some form of the global positioning system (GPS), whether in a mobile phone, computing device, or embedded in a car’s navigation system. But though we may all know how to use the conveniences offered by GPS technology, it’s likely many aren’t familiar with how GPS trackers work. 

What exactly is GPS tracking and how does it work? There are many specifics around GPS functionality that are beneficial for those with fleets to know. 

The details: how GPS tracking works

According to NASA, GPS usage goes back to the Sputnik era, when tracking radio signals via the “Doppler Effect” was all the rage.1 Today, GPS tracking is no longer used solely by governments and the military; it has become a common, entrenched part of everyday life. 

However, the technology itself isn’t just one thing. Global positioning technology is comprised of three parts that work in concert to create a system that functions as we all know it today.

The three parts of GPS tracking system technology are2: 

  1. Space: The space segment of the GPS systemis a nominal constellation of 24 satellites that transmit one-way micro-wave signals to give current time and position. This is the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS).
  2. Control: Worldwide monitoring and control ground stations keep satellites in the correct orbit, track the satellites, upload navigational data and maintain constellation health. 
  3. User: A GPS receiver equipment receives GPS satellite signals and uses this information to calculate a user’s 3D position and time.  

Where are GPS trackers used? 

Today, GPS tracking is integrated into a variety of mobile devices, including smart watches, smart phones, wearables, tablets and computers, as well as asset tracking and vehicle tracking solutions.  

But what is vehicle tracking and what does it do? In cars, GPS tracking devices are often overlaid onto map navigation systems to guide drivers along their routes and help them reach their desired destination. While this is the most widespread use of GPS tracking, GPS devices have also become commonplace in commercial vehicles and within transportation fleets—and thanks to telematics, they’ve also become an essential tool in improving overall fleet management.  

Telematics and GPS tracking

Telematics technology takes near real-time GPS data from vehicle tracking devices, combined with additional vehicle-specific data gleaned from a vehicle's OBD port, and transmits it back to centralized servers via cell phone or satellite networks.  

How does a tracking system like this work in a vehicle?

GPS fleet tracking software combines the location data from the vehicle with performance data from the equipment in order to analyze daily operations and improve essential areas such as safety, energy efficiency and productivity.  

Using telematics in tandem with GPS tracking allows businesses to access the location and status of vehicles on a live map, in near real-time. The software interprets all telematics data and automatically updates vehicle tracking information via desktop or mobile application to provide complete visibility into a fleet.  

This helps companies see the overall impact of their vehicles on daily business operations, and can help them respond quickly in the event of an emergency. Geofences setup using GIS data can help monitor vehicle security and location, even after hours.  

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Additional benefits of GPS and telematics

In addition to helping managers pinpoint fleet vehicle locations, using telematics in conjunction with GPS tracking provides valuable information around a fleet's performance, including vehicle condition, driving style of each driver, fuel consumption and idle time.  

This data can then be analyzed to identify areas of improvement to help fleets bolster day-to-day operations, create a safer work environment and achieve enhanced daily efficiency.  

The benefits of smart mobility

The growth of vehicle tracking technologies continues to boom. As it grows, it has generated results in better customer service that goes beyond simply tracking vehicles and loads, but in safe driving behavior and intelligent data aggregation through all-in-one platforms. 

Today’s fleet managers are keenly interested in smart mobility, striving for better integration, clean technology, safety and efficiency fit with a new normality in daily commercial operations.  

With consumers expecting same-day delivery and updates en route, this new normal in transportation is over-communication, transparency and complete visibility. Smart mobility rethinks transportation using technology to achieve safer and more efficient networks. 

Another goal of smart mobility is to help reduce traffic jams and achieve more environmentally-friendly business operations based on vehicle connectivity. Companies that have already implemented GPS fleet management systems have managed to improve their productivity and customer service while cutting back on fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. That’s because telematics technology used in tandem with GPS fleet tracking can help improve delivery times and streamline customer communication. 

For more on how companies like yours view their GPS fleet tracking investment, download our most recent Fleet Tracking Trends Report. 



Verizon Connect

Verizon Connect Staff represents a team of professionals passionate about everything telematics. Get to hear about the latest trends, product features and industry best practices from the desk of Verizon Connect Staff.

Tags: Productivity & Efficiency, Vehicle & asset security

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