In our previous article about GPS fleet tracking technologies we took a look at the way a receiver is able to find out its position in the world.  We saw that the position finding technology is called GPS and stands for Global Positioning System.  Through the mathematical principle of trilateration and series of 20+ satellites that currently orbit the globe, these specialized GPS tracking devices are able to find out their exact location provided that they have signals from at least 3 different satellites.  Taking the know position of these satellites and the distance that the receiver is from the satellite (calculated using the Distance = Time x Speed equation) the receiver has all the information that it needs to do the math necessary to find out its exact location in the world.  This is the GPS in GPS fleet tracking.

But once that position has been calculated, how does that information get sent to interested parties?  In other words, how does a plain old GPS fleet deceive, like those used for navigation, become a GPS fleet tracking device?  Where does the tracking in GPS fleet tracking come from?

The answer lies for most devices in something called GSM.  GSM stands for Global System for Mobile communications and it is the most widely used cellular network infrastructure in the world.  By some estimates, GSM is currently used by approximately 80% of mobile devices in the world for cellular communications, making it the most widely used standard for mobile communications in the world.  Used by 3 billion people across over 200 countries, this technology provides digital signals for both its voice and signaling channels and is considered to be a 2nd generation cell phone network.  In fact, low-cost SMS messaging (also know as text messaging) was pioneered on the GSM system and has improved the life of more people than could be counted by a single individual in their lifetime.

The importance for GSM in relation to GPS tracking devices designed for a fleet of vehicles is that it represents a ubiquitous method of data transmission.  When a fleet vehicle is out on the road it has to use some data transmission system in order to get its GPS location data back to the office so that bosses and dispatchers can use the tracking information to streamline business operations.  If they cannot get the data then having a fleet tracking  system installed is a waste of money.

For a large number of devices, the sequence of events is going to look something like this.  The GPS fleet tracking device gets a handful of singals from satellites which it then processes into position data.  The device kicks on its cell phone modem and it begins transmitting the data over a cell phone network to a computer where the data is then processed and made available through the internet to the computer of a business owner or vehicle dispatcher.  The following graphic may help us get a handle on exactly what happens:

GSM network communication path

Well start from the left and work our way across this image to the lower right with a few liberties with the graphic to talk about fleet tracking technology instead of cell phone technology.  So instead of seeing a computer on the far left imagine that you see a a van or truck or whatever vehicle you think you might want to track with some fleet management system.  Once the truck has established its position in the world due to GPS tracking technology it dials up its cell phone modem, represented in the picture above by the cell phone on the left.  This cell phone then “calls” a nearby tower and dumps its position information into a signal to be sent back to the office for routing purposes.  The tower then sends this information through its own series of servers until it hits the Internet represented by the world icon on the bottom right of the image.  Once on the Internet, this GPS tracking information is available to whomever has access to it, which in this case is going to be a very specific company or person – depending on who has set up your GPS fleet tracking software.

Potential Problems With GPS Fleet Tracking From GSM Technology

The one most important issue that companies who use GSM GPS fleet trackers is that they need to have access to a GSM network in order to work properly.  If they cannot access one of these cell phone networks then they are not going to be able to communicate their position information to the company by any means whatsoever.  If you are located in a city where cell phone coverage is everywhere then you should have no problems, but if your fleet is regularly traveling outside of cell phone coverage you really do not have much recourse other than to not purchase a GSM GPS fleet tracker.

Satellite GPS Fleet Tracking: The Solution

The solution to this problem for companies who regularly travel outside of established cell phone networks is to get a tracking system for their fleet that utilizes commercial communication satellites rather than the GSM network.  While this can be extremely expensive due to the cost associated with launching satellites into space, it certainly can be a useful way to bypass the traditional problems associated with GSM devices.  Satellite GPS fleet tracking still is not a perfect solution because it does require being able to contact one of these commercial satellites, but it is an effective alternative.

GSM GPS Fleet Tracking

For the most part, however, companies seeking to find effective ways to cut costs, improve worker efficiencies, and better maintain their fleet are going to benefit from standard GSM fleet tracking devices.  They work in an extremely large number of contexts and provide powerful data for companies of all sizes.  You simply cannot go wrong in choosing a fleet management strategy that includes some sort of GPS tracking for fleets.  You just need a plan and some quality tracking devices and you are set.