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How Does a GPS Tracker Work?

How does a GPS tracker work? Posted by Logistimatics Team on January 12, 2022

GPS technology has rapidly become a part of our daily lives. We use the Global Positioning System (GPS) for navigation, tracking assets, and even keeping track of each other, our children, and our loved ones. If you’re looking to keep your business assets secure or for peace of mind at home, a GPS tracker may be the right solution for you.

The Technology: What is a GPS Tracker?

The most basic function of a GPS tracker is to listen for signals coming from GPS satellites. These signals are transmitted from the dozens of GPS satellites orbiting the earth. Each satellite is equipped with an atomic clock, and it broadcasts a timestamp and a unique ID to differentiate it from other satellite signals. To pinpoint an exact location, the GPS tracker must connect to multiple satellites, which allows it to calculate its position (latitude, longitude, and altitude) by measuring the time it takes to receive back the timestamped signal from the satellites. It’s brilliant how it all works! 


For a GPS tracker to share its real-time location, it must connect to another network, usually a cellular network, which—like your mobile phone—requires a monthly subscription to send and receive data. This location data can then be shared in a web browser or through an app on a mobile device conveniently layered over a map. This process may sound complicated and time-consuming, but in reality, it happens near the speed of light. 


Inside a GPS tracker is a small electronic silicon chip—about the size of a fingernail. The chip requires a source of power like a battery to receive signals, process the data, and send out the location information. That’s why mobile phones, GPS watches, and tracker devices can perform these services. It’s also why there are requirements and limitations on the power, size, and physical positioning of GPS trackers. 


Like all things in our quickly evolving technology-driven world, electronics are constantly being improved, mass-produced, reduced to smaller sizes, and improved. While we can’t (yet) operate GPS trackers at a micro-scale, it’s not impossible to imagine a future world where GPS is embedded in our money, clothing, or even our skin. However, for now, the battery and antenna requirements keep GPS trackers about the size of a deck of cards. 


Although GPS trackers come in compact packages, like the Pocket Tracker, the trade-off is a smaller battery and shorter battery life. Battery life depends on multiple factors such as a fixed interval for when the device reports its position, how much time it spends on-call while you’re using the audio feature, and how often its position changes. With all of this in mind, some devices come equipped with a sleep mode to prolong the battery life. This means that while a device is asleep you will not be able to see its location or status. If you are willing to trade a little battery power, manual overrides could bypass or awaken the tracker from sleep mode, but this consumes battery power. In some products, like the Protect Plus, when programmed to report only once per day, battery life can last 18 months on a single charge. 


Signal strength is another critical factor in optimizing GPS tracker functionality. Just like when you’re talking on your mobile phone and you lose phone connectivity or cellular network access for a few seconds when you drive through a dead spot, these disruptions can also impact a GPS tracker’s ability to communicate with the satellites. Connectivity can be impacted by mountainous terrain, heavy vegetation, buildings, or being underground.


The Uses: A Guide to GPS Tracker Capabilities

GPS trackers can help you monitor your most valuable assets—even family or pets! And it goes beyond just their location: GPS trackers can also send alerts on movement or when the device travels beyond specific geographic boundaries. Often, GPS trackers can capture a history of location, speed, and altitude data for more advanced analytics. These benefits are big for businesses, as well as individuals and families.


  • Keep Track of People. Using a GPS tracker, you can instantly pinpoint the location of family members, nannies, caregivers, or employees. Some devices even come with a built-in panic button, allowing users to press a button on the device to alert authorities.
  • Geofence Alerts. GPS trackers allow you to define a specific area on a map, called a geofence, that will send a text or email alert when the tracker moves beyond it.
  • Speed Alerts. You can also set speed alerts—for example, if you’re interested in helping your new teen driver establish safe driving habits. These will notify you when the vehicle exceeds a specific speed threshold.
  • Location History. If you don’t want to continuously monitor in real-time, GPS trackers also make it possible to track event history to see locations traveled, speed, etc. 
  • Pet Monitoring. If Sparky has the habit of chasing that squirrel out of the boundaries of the local park, then a compact, lightweight GPS tracker can be attached to your dog’s collar to ensure he makes it home safely.


GPS trackers offer considerable benefits and provide a layer of security and peace of mind to help us monitor and care for those we love and the things we need to protect. To learn more about GPS tracker products and services, take a look at what we offer.