How Does GPS Tracking Work?

Written by Guest Blogger on September 2, 2012

GPS, or Global Positioning System, tracking is becoming increasingly common as a solution for locating and keeping on top of the movements of commercial and personal items. Using satellites and receivers to triangulate the location of a device, GPS has developed from military uses through to being part of smartphones and other consumer devices, and has also become an important part of business asset tracking and personal security. It’s worth, then, reviewing how GPS tracking works, as well as what some of its basic types and applications are.


GPS tracking depends on a satellite network that can transmit microwave signals to the Earth, where they can be received by devices. 27 satellites are in orbit around the planet, with 24 in operational use. The others act as backups. These satellites emit signals that can be received by sensors in a device, and converted into coordinates that can accurately map the exact location and movement of the device. The process of detecting and coordinating a location is known as trilateration, and requires there to be a clear matching up of signals with the available satellites.

This technology was first developed in the 1960s and 1970s as a military solution for tracking items, and became more common through the use of real time and passive mapping through receivers, becoming part of commercial uses and personal security. The technology has also advanced to the point where everyday consumer technology and receivers uses software to record and create navigation maps, and histories of movement, for items.

A basic GPS receiving device typically, then, contains a flash memory card, a 32 bit processor, LCD modules for light, motion sensors, a modem, and a receiver that can convert the satellite signal. Smaller chips can also be used as basic receivers and emitters of signals. This technology has also been adapted for use in Radio Frequency Identification, whereby a limited range radio signal can be activated through a scanner to load up information and track the movement of important assets.

Different Types of GPS Receivers

There are several different kinds of GPS receivers. A passive receiver, or a data logger, only stores the information from satellites via a flash memory. A data logger can then be connected to a computer to check on the movement of a route, and is typically used for tracking runs and routes, as well as for creating a record of the movement of pets and people that require tracking.

By contrast, an active GPS receiver is connected to a cellular network, and uploads coordinates in realtime for downloading and viewing by computer software. In this way, an item can be directly tracked. In the case of asset tracking, valuable items like goods deliveries or equipment can be tracked from a warehouse to a point of delivery by bringing up the active GPS signal, which will send out a continuous stream of data. This active link is also used by smartphones, and as part of satellite navigation systems.

Finally, a data puller GPS device fulfills much the same role as an active receiver, but only provides coordinates at intervals, rather than continuously. This kind of GPS data pulling is used for non essential items, and as part of the basic recording of the geographic position of a computer.


GPS consequently has many important uses. Asset tracking is perhaps the most common, with businesses able to keep tabs of their goods, which can in turn prevent losses, and ensure that deliveries are made accurately. However, asset tracking can also mean being able to identify and track the movement of loved ones and pets. Chips in pets can be invaluable for actively tracking a lost dog or cat. Chips that are attached to clothes, bags, and shoes, are also ideal for receiving and sending out satellite information on a child, or an elderly relative that has become lost.

Rob James is a technophile, Rob can be found blogging about all things technology related from GPS tracking, to mobile phones.

 Posted in Gadgets, Tech,

1 Response » to “How Does GPS Tracking Work?”

  1. Bryan says:

    GPS tracking has helped a lot of people, it is no longer intended for military purposes. One of the most popular GPS tacking is Spybubble gps tracking.

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