GPS Insight Forward IconGPS Tracking: How it Works

  • Tracking via GPS requires a GPS satellite, a vehicle with a tracking device, a wireless network, and GPS servers.
  • The vehicle’s GPS device transmits a wireless signal through providers like AT&T.
  • The data arrives at a server, which allows you too access the information from a tablet, smartphone, or computer.
  • Fleet software can organize the data to provide insights that matter to your organization.

Lance Holt

Author: Lance Holt

Content Marketing Specialist


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. 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?

Behind the Scenes: How GPS Tracking 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, or vehicle communication technology, 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 they work together, and ultimately the data GPS provides. Once you know and understand the process, then you can begin to think about ways in which to take advantage of GPS to enhance your fleet operations.

The Tracking Process

The tracking device is installed into a vehicle (or piece of equipment or asset) to gather all sorts of information including speed, idle time, diagnostics, etc. It uses Global Positioning Systems (GPS satellites) to know the vehicle or equipment’s location at all times. The information that is gathered from the vehicle is then stored on the device inside.

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 a location, and more. All the complexity of gathering the data is done in the background, so all you need to worry about is logging in to set up automated reports and alerts of the information that is important and relevant to you.

What Can the System Track?

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?

Like 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. One important application for this technology is fleet management.

Every organization that relies on vehicles has a great deal to gain from using GPS 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.

Working 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. 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.

Cut Out the Side Jobs

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

By eliminating side 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 being associated with an unauthorized job.

Track All Your Assets

Fleet tracking solutions work for all mobile assets, not just vehicles. You can monitor equipment such as trailers and generators, giving you extra piece 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.

GPS Can Prove That You Got the Job Done

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

This technology solves that problem with positive proof of what happened. It may reveal that you have some problem employees. But in most cases, you’ll find information that will help you stand behind your high performers.

Your employees will be accountable to you. And your organization will be accountable your customers. That’s a major boost for improved customer service.

Saving Lives with Tracking

We mentioned earlier that GPS has moved beyond dots on a map. Now, GPS-based fleet tracking solutions can also 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.

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.

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