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10 Ways For Your Smartphone To Discover Where You Are

Man on the stairs with smartphone

Modern world is so full of technology that sometimes we don’t even notice its presence. Still we are surrounded by many sensors, microchips and other small things which take part in our life. And one type of them is a combination of passive and active tracking technologies which you should know about.

Number 1: GPS

GPS technology is commonly used for navigation and tracking purposes. It is a satellite positioning system used by the USA. Together with other satellite navigation systems like Russian GLONASS, European Galileo, Chinese Compass and Japanese QZSS (Quasi-Zenith Satellite System) it is a powerful tool for precise (up to 1 centimeter) outdoor tracking, but it loses its magical power indoors and sometimes even in huge cities.

Number 2: Assisted GPS

Assisted GPS, or A-GPS, is the advanced version of GPS tracking. It is used to make GPS navigation work much faster. The main principle of this system is to use cell phone tower triangulation to determine the location of the smartphone in certain area and then use GPS satellites to determine it more precisely in that area.

How GPS satellite navigation works

Number 3: Synthetic GPS

This technology may be considered as the variation of the A-GPS that is also used to make the location finding job much faster, but it cannot improve the precision of the location tracking. Using cell phone or wireless internet network this system sends the data about future satellite locations and stores them in cache of the smartphone. Using these data your smartphone will determine the location in about 2 seconds.

Number 4: Cell ID

This technology allows mobile phone carriers to determine the location of your smartphone even without GPS module in it. This system uses the IDs of your smartphone and cell phone towers surrounding it to determine its location between three or more towers around. Although it is not as precise as GPS in the open areas, in urban environment it can give even more accuracy than GPS tracking because there are many short-range cell phone towers in the city and GPS navigation has weaker signal there.

Number 5: Wi-Fi

The similar thing can be done using Wi-Fi connection. In fact, there are two ways Wi-Fi can track your location. The first one is called RSSI. It uses Wi-Fi hotspots and their database to track your location between them (like Cell ID technology does with cell phone towers) with tens of meters of precision. The second way is called wireless fingerprinting. It records the fingerprint of the certain place, recording your location there during the first visit. When you go there again, the system will recognize you and be able to determine your location within few meters of accuracy.

Mobile phone location finding

Number 6: Inertial Sensors

Probably every smartphone has those sensors inside: magnetometer (or compass), accelerometer and gyroscope. Compass can determine the direction of your movement, accelerometer measures your speed and gyroscope monitors your turning actions. While they can work only few minutes, in combination with other tracking systems they can be very handy. For example, when you drive through the tunnel, ordinary tracking systems cannot reach you and while you are there, your location will be tracked by those sensors until you go to the tunnel exit where GPS tracking will pick you up.

Number 7: Barometer

While this tool is not of much use by itself, with some calibration and previously uploaded data about local weather it can determine the elevation level and even floor you are at quite precisely. Although its data can be affected by air conditioning and heating systems, barometer is very useful instrument for indoor tracking together with other ones.

Number 8: Short-Range Signals

Many government facilities and other high-security locations are using badges with RFID chips and hundreds of sensors inside the buildings to determine where particular person is. The other short-range signal technology that spread nowadays is the NFC (near-field communications). It is embedded in many different smartphones and used not only for payments but also to help indoor tracking become even more precise.

Ground-based signal transmitter

Number 9: Bluetooth Beacons

Some retail stores have started to use this technology to know precisely where the customer is and what goods he or she interested in. The accuracy of this tracking system is 10 centimeters. Its work is similar to the Wi-Fi fingerprinting but it uses the net of Bluetooth beacons across the store and Bluetooth 4.0 connection of your smartphone to locate you inside the store.

Number 10: Terrestrial Transmitters

I guess this is a real future of the tracking. Companies like Locata and NextNav have already started to develop it. They will use a combination of GPS satellites with ground-based transmitters which will allow 2 inch precise tracking to be available both outdoors and indoors. The Locata’s technology uses 2.4GHz frequency band (the same as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth) and NextNav’s technology relies on 900MHz band used by many modern cell phones and they plan to build a ring of their transmitters around each city.


So you can clearly see that tracking technologies are developing very quickly and soon there will be no place where you can be untraceable. Still there is a way to secure your location even from such advanced tracking technologies. Wherever you will be you can prevent your smartphone from discovering your location by any of the means described above at once and for good.

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