What Is GPS Tracking? 5 Common Questions Answered

February 10, 2021
Side view of an open laptop with a cup of coffee in the background. A woman is touching the keyboard with one hand and holding a phone in the other. Only her hands are visible.

Revolutionizing the ability to navigate accurately without using paper maps, the Global Positioning System (GPS) has become an integral part of most businesses’ and consumers’ lives.

While many of us have a basic understanding of GPS and GPS tracking, the details can be hazy. Many elements make up modern-day GPS, and understanding each element can help you get the most out of this useful business tool. 

Understanding what GPS tracking is, how it works, how it knows where you actually are, what it actually tracks, and how it’s used in business is essential knowledge for today’s savvy business owners, especially those with products to deliver.

What Is GPS Tracking? 

In a nutshell, GPS tracking is the use of satellites and receivers to track the geographic location of a person, vehicle, or other asset anywhere in the world, at any time of day or night. The history of GPS harkens back to World War II and radio wave location technology. It’s used both for tracking and navigation.

Public access to GPS has been around since September of 1983, due to President Ronald Reagan, who opened the technology up to the world after a Korean airliner was shot down by Soviet fighters due to navigation errors. However, GPS didn’t reach its full operational capability until 1995. Now, after being a common part of our world for almost 30 years, GPS has been integrated into countless facets of our everyday lives.

GPS tracking takes data and turns it into a visual map, something useful for driver navigation or simple vehicle tracking.

How Does GPS Tracking Know Where You Are?

How, exactly, does GPS tracking track your exact location and know where you are? 

The critical component here is the GPS receiver. These may be physical devices that plug into your car or truck, or cloud-based options included in route optimization and delivery management solutions

The number of GPS-equipped products has grown exponentially since the public’s first access to GPS. From your cell phone to your watch to your car, many of today’s devices include a GPS tracking device. 

GPS locating uses a mathematical technique known as trilateration. Using three or more satellites and a GPS tracking device, it’s possible to trilaterate a position or determine an exact position on Earth. Through the measurement of distances, a precise location can be determined. 

Trilateration works by finding your place on Earth using the location of the GPS satellites and their distance from your location. 

How Does GPS Tracking Know Where You Are?

Think of each satellite as a circle, with the satellite in the middle and your location somewhere on the outer edge. With one satellite, you could only know how far you are from the satellite. Two satellites provide a broad range between two possible points, narrowing down your location. Once you have three or more satellites, you will get an intersection of the exact point where a receiver is located. 

The more satellites, the more precise the location.

What Does GPS Tracking Actually Track? 

GPS tracking can determine the location of a tracked device, but it can also provide so much more.

GPS tracking monitors location, time, and velocity. This means it can provide information on where something is, what time it was there, and how long it was there. By performing additional mathematical equations based on location and distance, it can also determine the speed by which something traveled The accuracy of speed data based on GPS tracking depends on several factors, including the receiver’s design and signal strength, atmospheric conditions, and satellite geometry.

With this data, business owners can see their fleet in real time, via a dashboard on a desktop or mobile device.

How Does GPS Tracking Work?  

The end result of GPS tracking can be as simple as “dots on a map,” representing simple driver and vehicle locations, or increasingly complex, providing details on time, vehicle speed, and location. 

Modern-day GPS tracking became a possibility with the invention of space flight. GPS depends on a network of satellites spaced precisely around the Earth to determine a precise location.

There are three main segments to GPS: 

  • Satellite constellation
  • Ground control network
  • User network 

So, how does all of this end up making GPS tracking work?

A network of 24 satellites continually send signals down to a ground control network, giving their precise location. The satellites also send radio signals down to a GPS receiver, such as one in a cell phone or a GPS receiver installed in a vehicle.  

This data is sent from the GPS receiver through a wireless network of some form (e.g., cell service) to a server. This server is used by your GPS tracking provider, which takes the data and turns it into a visual format to help you see where your drivers are.

How Is GPS Tracking Used in Businesses? 

Even though full operational public access to GPS has been around for nearly three decades, many delivery fleets are still unsure of how this technology works and the potential it has to help their small fleet become more efficient, while also increasing the safety of their drivers and the general public. 

How Is GPS Tracking Used in Businesses?

There are a few of the top ways GPS is used by delivery businesses: 

  1. Basic vehicle tracking. The ability to know your vehicles’ locations are at any given time is a huge time saver for business owners. This is especially crucial for delivery businesses looking to provide customers with real-time tracking of purchases on the way.
  2. Asset monitoring. GPS tracking can be used on equipment and assets, helping businesses know where nonvehicle items are at any given time. 
  3. Driver monitoring. Business owners can also utilize GPS tracking to monitor driver location, to ensure they are working where they should be, not taking a two-hour paid break at the local zoo. 
  4. Delivery management. Businesses receive as well as send packages. GPS tracking allows a delivery business to stay on top of their orders in addition to their customers. 
  5. Route planning. GPS tracking is also used as part of route planning software to help ensure that vehicles get to their destinations in the most efficient way possible. 
  6. Enhancing driver safety. GPS tracking can also help keep drivers safe. Suppose you receive a call that a delivery driver is late. Your GPS tracking system shows the driver hasn’t moved in 20 minutes. This may signal that a crash or other incident has occurred. GPS tracking can also help back up your drivers’ statements, proving their location at a particular time of day. 
  7. Vehicle use analysis. GPS tracking can also help analyze your vehicle use. This data can help determine if you are underutilizing your assets or need to invest in more vehicles. It can also provide necessary information for planning mileage-based preventive and scheduled maintenance. 

Why GPS Tracking Matters

Because GPS tracking capabilities are so widespread and inexpensive, customer expectations for product deliveries are changing. Customers are looking for real-time delivery status and delivery windows within two hours or less. And they want all of this to be free or at very low cost to them.  

If you don’t utilize a system already, it’s time to look into GPS tracking and what it can do for your business.

Want to learn more about how to keep tabs on your drivers and deliveries? Try a  free, 7-day trial with Routific today.

Routific honeycomb logo mark

The easiest-to-use route optimization platform for growing delivery businesses.

Portrait of Suzanne Ma
Suzanne Ma
Suzanne Ma is a former journalist and published author turned co-founder at Routific, a route optimization platform. She loves to capture inspiring stories from small business entrepreneurs, and share their journeys of growth alongside Routific. As a Product Marketer, she ensures that the community stays up to date on the latest innovations at Routific.

Frequently Asked Questions

No items found.