The global positioning system has revolutionized our lives, whether we have a GPS tracking device or not. From banking to mapmaking, the global positioning system is changing how we live, work and access information about the world around us.
Today's cell phones are not an exception. Many of the smartphones used today have GPS cell phone tracking capabilities.
Some cell phones have GPS trackers installed in them. Others do not, yet they have GPS-like capabilities.
With the global positioning system, satellites in orbit above the Earth send signals to GPS trackers. The signals include a precise time-stamp. Because the satellites are in a predictable orbit, their exact locations are always known. When a GPS tracker receives the signal from the satellite, it knows when the message was sent, along with the satellites position. Based on this information, and by using triangulation, it knows its own location in relation to that of the satellites. This is the basis for GPS cell phone tracking.
Phones without GPS cell phone tracking can be tracked using the signals they receive from cell phone towers. The signals travel at a constant speed. By recording the amount of time it takes between when the signal left the cell phone tower and when it was received by the phone, the cell phone location can be determined. This difference of time when multiplied by the speed of the signal gives the distance of the cell phone to the tower. Cell providers know a radius in which a given cell phone is located. This would look like a big circle around the cell tower.
When there is a second tower that transmits a signal that is picked up by the phone, there is a second circle on the map. Where these two circles overlap is a more precise location of the cell phone. Adding additional towers results in more precise locations. This enables GPS cell phone tracking in phones without a GPS tracker.
However, true GPS cell phone tracking is more precise and is not affected by inclement weather, cell signal strength, or available towers.
One of the most important uses for GPS cell phone tracking is locating 911 callers. This was a mandated feature by the FCC in 2002. At that time the FCC said either the cell phone itself or the tower had to be integrated with GPS tracking to enable triangulation and find the cell phone user. This is called location monitoring and is commonly referred to as tracing.
While 911 callers can be located, there are additional uses for tracing a cell phone. For instance, a concerned parent may want to track the driving habits of their teenager.