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How Does GPS Tracking Work?

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More than half of Americans use some form of GPS tracking. Millions of people used GPS technology to plan road trips, avoid heavy traffic, or get roadside assistance. Whether it’s something as user-friendly as Google Maps or a high-tech GPS tracking system. This technology is even the basis for social networking: Last year, 36 million people tracked their workouts and uploaded them to to track their progress or compete for bragging rights.

And every day, fleet managers around the world put GPS to work tracking their mobile assets. They get data that helps them address problems like accountability, compliance, efficiency, and safety. In short, GPS makes their fleets operate more profitably.

But how does that all happen? What’s the process? How does tracking via GPS work?


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Behind the Scenes: How A GPS Tracker Works

The main functionality of a GPS-based tracking system comes from the use of the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) network. This network of satellites emits microwave signals which are sent through to a variety of GPS devices. These devices can be found in vehicles or smartphones themselves for example. The information that is broadcast from the vehicle are things like location, vehicle speed, direction, etc.

In regards to vehicle tracking devices, or GPS fleet tracking, these are the four components that make it possible:

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In this article, we’ll look at what each of these four components does, how do the devices work how they work together, and ultimately the data GPS provides. Once you know how the use of GPS can help, then you can begin to think about ways in which to take advantage of GPS to enhance your fleet operations.

How GPS Tracking Works

The GPS tracking device is installed into a vehicle (or piece of equipment or asset) to gather real-time information including speed, idle time, diagnostics, etc. It uses Global Positioning Systems (GPS satellites) to know the vehicle or equipment’s location on Earth at all times. The information gathered from the vehicle is then stored on the device inside, sometimes on internal storage like a sim card while others send their data to a cloud-based system.

GPS trackers come in all shapes and sizes. Some are built into dashcams while others are “plug and play” devices like an OBD. Some even have the capacity to connect to wifi and have a set battery life.

The data is then transmitted by using a wireless, or cellular network through providers like AT&T and Verizon. It travels over one of these cellular networks back to a server. The server acts as the “cloud” that allows you to access the information no matter where you are on a computer, tablet, or smartphone.

The most basic information that is reported from the vehicle is real-time location tracking of your vehicles and equipment. The location data is displayed on a map in near real-time. Providers then offer a myriad of ways in which data can be accessed such as breadcrumb trails of where the vehicle has traveled, how fast it traveled on the way to an accurate location, and more. All the complexity of gathering the data is done in the background, so all you need to worry about as a business owner is logging in to set up automated reports and alerts of the information that is important and relevant to you.

More Than A Car Tracker?

There is a wealth of information that GPS data can show you to help overcome your unique business challenges. The most obvious and common challenge is providing visibility into your fleet’s current and historical locations.

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The next step would be looking at data such as speeding, idling, unauthorized usage, job verification or actual hours worked vs. hours claimed, as well as providing an accurate way to keep up with maintenance. The possibilities are endless, which is why it’s important to understand what your challenges are so you know what to look for in a mobile asset management provider.

Who Uses GPS Tracking Devices?

As we mentioned earlier, GPS tracking is virtually everywhere, from our cell phones to aircraft to ships. And it’s evolved beyond dots on a map or blips from satellite signals. One important application for this technology is fleet management.

Every organization that relies on vehicles has a great deal to gain from using car tracking to track its mobile assets. And it’s not just the big fleets: Small local fleets also benefit greatly. You’ll find vehicles ranging from government-owned sedans to long-haul trucks relying on GPS technology.

Here are just a few ways GPS works to make commercial and government fleets safer and more cost-effective.

The Best GPS to Cut Emissions and Fuel Use

Before the days of GPS tracking, fleet managers had no idea what happened when their employees – and their organization’s vehicles – left for the day. They had no way of knowing who to dispatch for jobs, or even whether those jobs were getting done.

Now, fleet managers can assess which vehicles to dispatch to a site for service on their mobile phones. Sending the nearest vehicle saves time, saves money (through using less fuel) and cuts emissions.

And GPS technology can also monitor vehicle speed. Speeding is one of the fastest ways to burn through cash: You can lose up to 2% of your fuel economy for each mile per hour you drive above 55 mph. Having GPS as a tracking solution lets you coach drivers to keep their speed down.

Telematics to Cut Out the Side Jobs

Some fleet managers find out that employees are using company vehicles for side jobs. GPS-enabled fleet solutions can show when vehicles are being used after hours and find out where they’re going.

By eliminating “pick up” jobs, you’ll reduce wear and tear on vehicles. You might also find that it helps protect your brand. You wouldn’t want your organization to be associated with an unauthorized job.

Asset Tracking

Fleet tracking solutions work for all mobile assets, not just vehicles. Asset tracking can help you monitor equipment such as trailers and generators. All can be linked to the gnss giving you extra peace of mind that they’re secure.

You can also geofence your worksites, which means you’ll be able to detect assets leaving or entering that space. Geofencing to create boundaries for where your fleet will travel which will better help with knowing where your vehicles are — or should be — and save on fuel costs.

A GPS Tracker Can Prove That You Got the Job Done

Sometimes, customers will dispute how much time your employees spend at their site. They might even claim they were never there at all.

Vehicle tracking solves that problem with positive proof of what happened. Location data can reveal that you have some problems with employees. But in most cases, you’ll find location information that will help you stand behind your high performers.

Your employees will be accountable to you because of the GPS receiver in their vehicle. And your organization will be accountable to your customers thanks to your GPS receiver. That’s a major boost for improved customer service.

Saving Lives with Tracking

We mentioned earlier that GPS navigation has moved beyond dots on a map. Now, GPS-based fleet management solutions can be so accurate all the way down to personal tracking. There are types of trackers that provide alerts when drivers aren’t wearing a seatbelt. It can also flag unsafe driving like hard stops, hard cornering and sudden acceleration. By monitoring driver behavior, you can encourage better driving habits fleetwide and improve driver safety.

In some cases, it’s possible to use GPS technology to create custom solutions to your own challenges. One utility company in Oklahoma worked with GPS Insight on a “panic button” that would allow its employees to call for help in an emergency. Months after the utility implemented the solution, one line worker used it to call for help when his truck caught fire while he was in the bucket of his truck servicing a power line. The feature saved his life.

And a food transportation company worked with us after a series of rollover accidents that resulted in at least one fatality. The company identified a “correction curve” on a highway that was challenging for its driving. GPS Insight created an in-cab alarm that would let drivers know when they were approaching the correction curve. Since then, the company hasn’t had any accidents involving the corrections curve.

It’s situations like these that provide better peace of mind not only to fleet managers and business owners, but to family members and loved ones of the people on your team.

There is an unlimited amount of opportunities that are available to you when you implement GPS tracking into your fleet management system. If you’d like to see the possibilities for your company, request a free demo and unlock the greater organization, structure and safety you can add to your fleet.