Each time we misplace or lose something—from small things, like keys or a wallet/purse, to larger, more important things like a vehicle or a member of our family—we wish there was an easier way of locating it. Sometimes, we inevitably find ourselves wishing for advanced, military-grade technology to help retrieve or reunite us with our valuables.
You’re in luck! Although it’s not quite military-grade technology, the great news is that consumer technology such as Bluetooth trackers and GPS trackers have made amazing advances in monitoring something’s location or helping us find our lost objects. Deciding which tracker device—Bluetooth or GPS—is best for you, requires a basic understanding of the underlying technology, common features, and inherent limitations. Let’s start by looking first at Bluetooth trackers, and then we’ll dive into GPS trackers.
A Bluetooth tracker is a diminutive device, approximately the size of a coin. The technology inside the tracker consists of a small electronic chip, an antenna, and a battery. Often built on Bluetooth Low Energy (also known as BLE or Bluetooth 4.0), Bluetooth trackers also have a system unique identifier that is only known to their registered owners and is associated to them through the tracker provider’s system (typically via mobile app). This app is a necessary component for finding the tracker and the valuable objects connected to it.
To locate your tracker and its connected objects, you simply launch your mobile app and can set the Bluetooth device to ring loudly, guiding you to its location. Some devices can even be used reciprocally—so if your phone is the misplaced item, you can press a button on the Bluetooth device, causing your phone to ring. Additionally, some tracker providers allow other users to form a network where their mobile phones can anonymously help locate other Bluetooth tracker devices they may encounter if your device is outside your devices’ range of detection.
Bluetooth trackers have a pretty limited range—usually about 200 feet maximum and they can experience interference caused by walls or other obstructions. Power is also a concern, though trackers can last up to a year. Some providers offer replaceable batteries or a discounted trade-in system as a way to address this limitation.
GPS trackers are small, about the size of a fingernail (though they need to be teamed up with a larger battery as well). The technology inside includes a small electronic chip, an antenna to communicate with orbiting satellites, and typically some cellular or mobile communication components to share location data in real-time. To communicate location data, the GPS device calculates the distance to multiple satellite signals by measuring the time it takes to receive back a transmitted signal. This data is then communicated via a network (like a mobile phone network, for example), which allows you to pinpoint the device’s location through an application or web browser interface.
GPS trackers have an almost global range. As long as satellite connections and some kind of network communication is available, you can locate your GPS tracker device anywhere within those conditions from anywhere else on the planet. GPS trackers can also offer convenient features such as alerts sent by text or email if your device moves in or out of specific boundaries.
GPS trackers consume much more power because of how they constantly communicate location details and movements, as well as the core requirement of maintaining multiple channels of communication (with orbiting satellites and local networks). This limitation can be mitigated by being directly connected to some external power source, such as the battery of an automobile as is done with Logistimatic’s Road-Wired Tracker. Also, given the need to communicate location in real-time from a distance, GPS trackers also need some kind of subscription service to connect to mobile networks—much like your phone’s monthly mobile service contract.
Bluetooth trackers and GPS trackers are similar in many respects. They offer many of the same features, but they are unique enough that they will both likely continue to co-exist to meet the location and monitoring needs of the masses.
Perhaps this is an obvious observation, but one worth noting nonetheless: Whichever technology you decide is best for you, you should act now—or at least sooner than later. By the time you realize you have lost your precious possession, it is too late to take advantage of either technology to assist you in its retrieval!