How does location transmission work with GPS trackers?

Are you interested in GPS trackers and want to know how these small devices work? How does the tracker manage to query and send its location and display it on my cell phone or computer? Here you can find out everything you need to know about transmitting the location of GPS trackers.

The localization

In order for a GPS tracker to be able to transmit its location to you, it must first be located. The two most common types of location determination are GPS and GSM positioning. It should be noted that the GPS version is generally much more accurate.

GPS tracking

The Global Positioning System is a satellite system operated by the US Department of Defense. These send signals at certain intervals, which the GPS tracker receives. By time-delaying the signals from up to 12 satellites simultaneously, the position of the tracker can be determined to the meter. The problem with GPS positioning is obvious: places where you do not have a clear view of the sky (e.g. tunnels, underground car parks, etc.) do not receive signals from the satellites and therefore cannot carry out a location analysis. You can find out more about this in our blog post GPS disruptive factors.

GSM positioning

Similar to GPS positioning, different signals and their delays are used to determine the exact location of the tracker. However, this time the registration of the inserted SIM card with a mobile phone provider plays a central role. The GPS positioning satellites are only replaced here by transmission masts for the mobile phone network. However, even with GSM positioning, there are places that cannot be reached by the mobile network and therefore make it impossible to determine the location.

Sending the data

As a rule, there are two alternatives for transmitting the current position of the GPS tracker to any end device: SMS and mobile phone.


Most GPS trackers transmit their location in an SMS. This is rather unfortunate for the user, as text messaging in Germany and especially internationally is not really cheap. The tracker sends the previously determined location in coordinates to the tracker manufacturer’s server, which forwards the data to the end device.

Mobile radio

GPS tracker providers often offer an app or an online portal for more precise determination and tracking of location data. Access to mobile data is essential here. The GPS tracker sends a data packet filled with the previously recorded position data and time stamps to the manufacturer’s servers. The data is processed there and displayed for you on your cell phone or laptop in the form of an exact point on the map.

Use of the 2G mobile communications standard:
The majority of GPS trackers available on the market use the GSM standard, internationally known as the 2G network, to transmit their location via mobile radio. The rather basic mobile phone technology is completely sufficient for transmitting data. As the use of the 2G network requires less transmission power, the GSM standard is also more energy-efficient than the common alternatives (UMTS and LTE network).

Information on data volume:
The volumes of data handled here are very small. Since network operators round up any activity that requires mobile data to 10 KB, it is difficult to say how much data volume a location transmission actually consumes. However, it is clear that each new contact, i.e. each positioning, requires a new connection and therefore consumes a further 10 KB.

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