GPS trackers are truly amazing devices. If you need to locate a person, a vehicle or an asset in real-time, there are a number of tracking devices that’ll do the job.

So let’s debunk some of the tales that have sprung up around GPS over the last 10 years or so.


You can slip a GPS tracker into a stack of dollar bills!

This is the stuff of science fiction. At least for now. Not for the reason you might think, though. In recent years GPS chips have become tiny, as in, tiny like the nail on your pinky. 

So, if GPS receiver chips are so small, why are tracking devices so much larger? Two reasons: First, a GPS tracker requires two antennae, one for GPS and another for cellular. The size of the GPS antenna will affect how well the chip receives data from the Global Positioning System, and therefore the device’s accuracy. Generally, the larger the antenna, the better the signal.

When I watch GPS trackers on TV, I can see the tracker move across a map, but when I use one myself it jumps from point to point.

TV and movie producers take some liberties when portraying GPS trackers. It wouldn’t be very interesting to pan a camera over a computer screen to show a dot move every 10 seconds (or even every 30 or 60 seconds). Nobody’s got time for that. 

Real time GPS trackers report their positions at a predetermined interval and are programmed based on the needs of the user. This will be based on a variety of factors, such as the tracker’s size, what’s being tracked and expected cellular and GPS coverage in the area, among others. Commonly, the fastest reporting interval for most trackers is every 10 seconds.

By not sending a continual stream of data, the tracker can conserve power and potentially operate for weeks, or even months in some cases. One set for constant data would likely last only a few hours at best. It also helps keep costs down. For most applications, reporting every few minutes is more than adequate.

So, a tracker sends its location at a predetermined interval, which the GPS platform displays as a point on a map, which usually takes a few seconds to process (depending on network traffic). It sends data that way to provide tracking for as long as possible at the best price. Hollywood just can’t show an audience a computer screen that stays static for 30 seconds.

Why does the accuracy of my tracker change? 

Each of the 27 GPS satellites orbiting the earth is constantly in motion. The system is set up so that at any given time at least four satellites are within the view of any point on the planet. Usually, there will be more. The simple answer is that the more satellites your tracker can “see,” the more accurate it’s position will be. So, as the number of satellites in view changes, so will your tracker’s accuracy.

This is assuming your tracker is in the same with the same conditions. Accuracy will naturally vary when a device is in motion. When walking or driving, tall buildings, mountains, and even trees can obstruct satellite coverage. You may also notice that coverage drops in a certain area that seems to be completely open. This may be due to interference caused by some sort of electronic transmission, such as those emitted by high power lines.

 

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