How Does GPS Tracking Work?

GPS tracking has been integrated in almost every aspect of our lives. We use GPS to navigate where we are going, we use it in our phones to determine our location, and our company uses it in order to make your fleet managing system all the more easier. It is an acronym that has become immensely popular in the past few years. However, there is more to GPS than just tracking the signal and it requires an interwoven web of connections in order for us to make use of it. If you are unsure of what exactly GPS is, we’ve got you covered.


The definition of GPS

GPS stands for Global Positioning System and it is a device that is made up of at least 24 satellites orbiting the Earth. At the moment there are 31 satellites orbiting the Earth that form part of the GPS constellation. These satellites transmit a special signal for its own use and a separate signal that can be picked up by anyone with the correct technological equipment. It was put in place in 1989 by the US Military and since then it has allowed manufacturers to integrate this technology into their products.


How does GPS work?

The GPS satellites that we spoke of above are constantly emitting signals towards Earth from which we can determine their exact positions and precise time as measured by an atomic clock. Receivers pick up on these transmissions, calculate how long it takes the signal to reach them, and then measure that against their own internal clock. By picking up the signal from at least 3 satellites the device uses trilateration to figure out exactly where it is. The more satellites there are in view of the receiver, the more precise it is at detecting its location.


Different types of GPS satellites

At the moment, there are 4 types of satellites functioning in the GPS constellation and these are known as Blocks. There is a fifth one underway, but for now we will focus on the existing four. They are as follow:

  • Block IIA satellites: these are the oldest satellites that form part of the GPS constellation. There were still 10 of these in orbit in August 2011 and 2 of them have been in service for over 20 years, despite their initial calculate lifespan of 7.5 years. This means that they have surpassed their longevity by at least 13 years. They were launched in November 1990 and November 1997, respectively. However, these satellites are aging fast due to their long performance and important work as functioning in the GPS constellation.
  • Block IIR satellites: as soon as the decay on the Block IIA satellites was noticed, a new type of satellite was designed to replace them. In 1997 Lockheed Martin developed them and in 1997 they began their service. The last one was released in 2004 and there are currently 12 Block IIR satellites in orbit today. These 12 orbiting satellites form the core of the GPS system.
  • Block IIR(M) satellites: these satellites began launching in 2005. They were improved versions of the IIR satellites and added new jam-resistance for military signals. They were also the first to broadcast the L2C signal, a second civilian signal. This signal was designed for commercial use, much like vehicle tracking, which helped to improve the accuracy for dual-frequency receivers. L2C also broadcasts at a higher power, allowing for better signal penetration in highly vegetated or built-in areas.
  • Block IIF satellites: the final satellites began their service in 2010 and the second one was launched in 2011. They are designed to replace the failing Block IIA units and 10 more are planned to launch. The IIF blocks have a longer lifespan of about 12 years and broadcasts on the L5 frequency, the third frequency for civilian use. This is one of the frequencies that our systems make use of when it comes to the safety-of-life transportation. L5 frequency is expected to provide accuracy under a meter without any sort of augmentation due to its conjunctive use of trilaning.


GPS in Vehicle Tracking

The GPS that is used in vehicle tracking falls under the data pusher category of GPS systems. It is designed specifically to track the position of any of the assets that might belong to the business owner and includes a battery operated device. Some people have even opted for solar powered GPS tracking that limits the use of battery operated packs and solely make use of the sun’s power. This makes it cheaper in the long run and it reduces the long term costs of having to replace the GPS transmitter.

The way GPS works in vehicle tracking is extremely interesting. It either downloads maps to translate coordinates to addresses or it uses the internet in order to get in touch with the satellite in real-time in order to receive coordinates and transmit it back to you in the form of an address. This information is transferred to a server over the internet and you can view the driver’s current and past locations on one platform. It also gives you the opportunity to view other details such as the status of the car (idling, etc.) as well as the speed of the car. It enables you to stay on top of every single vehicle that you have in your fleet or at home.

The GPS satellites that are in our orbits are constantly being upgraded and replaced, as you can see from the above explanations. With today’s technology there are many developments in the pipeline in order to make your GPS signal reach you faster and more efficiently.

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