Breaking down car tracking

car tracking

By Pius Muhumuza

I can’t claim to be an expert in car tracking, let alone Telematics but I sure do know enough to be amused at people’s’ reactions when tracking, in general, is mentioned.

The first thing that comes to people’s minds is either Google Earth, Nasa Wind, Google Maps, CIA, NSA, Fan favorite TV series like Nikita to mention but a few or a ‘bunch of baseless conspiracies’ which for the most part could be true but then where is the truth in something you really can’t prove?

Car tracking is becoming so popular, its need stretches from people fearing for the safety of their ‘hard paid for’ automobiles to those simply being petty and paranoid, they install trackers to spy on their partners or colleagues.

Organizations also have trackers installed in vehicles for reasons like;

Monitoring vehicle utilization of company assets.

Misuse control of company assets.

Monitoring employee movements especially those with blotted bills on company assets.

Planning for trips and transport activities of an organization.

Driver behavior and fuel management.

Frankly speaking, for what reasons one uses tracking devices don’t matter to me being they are the clients but how they do is what truly intrigues me often times.

First and foremost, there are many ways to determine the position of a vehicle/automobile, one just needs to utilize the right resources.

Basing on the most know reference to tracking being GPS, I would like to help those who don’t already know, the current big three technologies for global positioning are USA’s GPS, Europe’s Galileo, and Russia’s Glonass, at least as far as we can prove for now.

There are a couple of others but that I will trust your general curiosity can help you find out.

Of these three, GPS & GLONASS rank top 1 & 2 respectively although, as I said, the reverse can also be true if it can be proved.

Today all smartphones will come equipped with GPS/GLONASS capabilities.

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The term “GPS” is often used for all three technologies or even all the available ones since they do the same thing the only difference being the methods, owners, resources, and efficiency.

So how does Car tracking work?

The first step in car tracking is determining what tracking device to use, what mode of communication to utilize, either satellite or GSM.

From there on picking up the location of the device should be easy followed by transmitting that data to a display terminal like a monitoring platform.

Car tracking like all other tracking requires determining the location of the tracking unit in the vehicle by measuring the distance from GPS satellites orbiting the planet.

The installed device usually captures certain parameters based on its capabilities to feed the end user; driver, fleet manager, leasing company or insurance company of the vehicle’s location and utilization day in, day out.

A simple illustration of GPS Tracking systems and mechanism

In the most basic explanation, effective tracking is accomplished by a receiver collecting data from at least 4 satellites at any one moment in order to determine or triangulate the precise position of a device, in this case, your vehicle being tracked.

Signals can be transmitted by satellite or GSM.

This means if you are using direct Satellite then you get the best positioning data but this can be very costly in the long run.

On the other hand, using GSM means signals are routed through a telecommunications service provider’s tower nearest to your device to enable your installed tracker to transmit data back and forth.

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For purposes of clarity, a device that simply contains a GPS chipset/module does not make it a tracking device whatsoever as this will allows the device to determine its location on the globe.

Therefore, the device will further need modules that determine how it transmits this location data, be it direct satellite or GSM.

So in simple terms, the basic tracker can get this location information and store it on its inbuilt storage for a period of time which happens mostly in cases of not coverage.

Once a mode of information transmission is established based on the make of the device, the device will either use communication satellites to send this data to the base servers or use GSM base stations to transmit this information back to the servers.

Recently we have tracking units that can switch between satellite and GSM based on the network coverage or signal reception.

They are expensive as earlier mentioned but very effective.

For those that hear companies saying international sim cards. The logic here is the company will partner will local service providers say MTN, Airtel, or Uganda Telecom to mention but a few from Uganda and maybe others in the various countries globally.

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This arrangement enables the international sim card to sort of piggyback on the strongest networks active in the country at any one time as long as the tracking unit its installed in is activated.

This helps all data reported to the servers for eventual display on end-user points to remain healthy.

This article originally appeared on SilentWhispering, a blog run by Pius Muhumuza

(All images used in this article were picked from Google)


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