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GSM Tracking Explained

GSM tracking mobile tower

What Is GSM?

GSM stands for Global System for Mobile communications and is best known for its use in mobile phone technologies. Originally developed in Europe under the name Group Special Mobile, it has since been used to great advantage for vehicle tracking and other technologies.

It was first launched in Finland in 1991, and now around 700 mobile networks provide GSM tracking services to 213 countries, representing almost 83% of global mobile connections. In short, GSM is at the heart of global communications and tracking networks.

GPS And GSM Differences

While GPS uses satellite technology to triangulate the position of the GPS tracker, GSM based vehicle tracking systems use signal strength and base station triangulation to determine the whereabouts of the GSM tracking device. GPS and GSM can be used together in a single tracking device for the best location accuracy.

GSM Functions In Tracking Devices

Hybrid GSM/GPS Trackers

You will usually find a good vehicle tracking device uses GSM with GPS, to gain the full advantages of each system.

Hybrid technologies have become possible with technological advances in recent years. This has allowed GSM/GPS trackers to be implemented in devices as small as a box of matches.

Sometimes GPRS- General Packet Radio Services- may also be used, as a third method for tracking, using packet-based wireless communication. The systems work together to achieve the best results.

Advantages of GSM/GPS Trackers

GPS locator technologies are the most accurate for tracking because they use several satellites to determine the GPS tracker's location. The problem with these devices is they rely on satellites that can easily lose coverage.

GSM is less accurate (locates within 10m rather than the 1m accuracy of GPS) but uses a ground-based system to triangulate the whereabouts of its devices, so it does not have the same reliability issues as the GPS tracker.

Together these technologies balance each other out, enabling a tracking system that is both reliable and accurate.

GSM tracking software is also able to upload a myriad of information in real time, allowing for a more thorough operation for companies with large fleets.

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Do you already have a Vehicle Tracking System?

How to Build Your Own GSM Car Tracker - Step by Step

GSM vehicle trackers can be bought or built. Building your own GSM tracker is a technically complex task, but for those with expert knowledge it can be a worthwhile endeavour. However you should not attempt to add a tracker to your vehicle if you are unfamiliar with vehicle modification.

GSM Tracker Parts

If you do choose to build your own GSM tracker, you will need:

  • An old GSM mobile phone with a Pay You Go SIM card
  • An in-car charger to match the phone
  • A plastic box that is a little larger than the phone
  • A small potting box
  • Potting compound
  • A self-adhesive velcro strip (industrial strength)
  • 5amp 2-Core flex
  • An inline fuse holder with battery terminal connectors & 1-Amp fuse
  • A soldering iron
  • Tape
  • Drill
  • Thorough knowledge of your vehicle for ensuring your personal safety

Building Your Own GSM Tracking Device

  1. Remove the back cover of your mobile phone.
  2. Take apart the in-car charger to reveal the several components and wires inside. Take note where the pip of the side of the plug is soldered. Pay extra attention to where the side of the springs of the plug are.
  3. Carefully remove the pip before soldering the brown lead from your flex to this connector.
  4. Remove the side spring and solder the flex’s blue lead to this connector
  5. Accurately tape over the solder and place together with the components that were in the charger into the potting box.
  6. With the potting compound, fill the potting box and allow to cure.
  7. Connect the charger to the phone, drill a small hole through the main box and allow the 2-core flex to pass through it.
  8. Line the box with the industrial Velcro strip, then insert the phone and fasten. Using any spare Velcro, fix the potting box to the main box then pass the 2-core cable through the hole.
  9. At the end of the 2-core flex, cut the brown wire 6 inches shorter than the blue wire then solder the inline fuse connector to the brown wire before soldering the brown wire you cut off to the opposing end of the inline fuse connector.
  10. Take the ends of the brown and blue wires and solder them to the battery connectors before connecting to the vehicle battery.
  11. Make sure you place your GSM tracker out of site and in a safe place where it will not become damaged during daily use of the vehicle.

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Do you already have a Vehicle Tracking System?

Buying a GSM Tracker

For most people the technical difficulties of building a GSM tracking device are not worth the time and effort. Even if you are technically adept enough to be able to accurately build such a device, it still make more sense to buy it to ensure reliability with the added bonus of GSM tracking software and support. Building your own devices may also incur extra costs in relation to insurance premiums.

Next Steps

If you would like to buy a tracking device with GSM then you have the difficult decision of choosing which one is best suited to your operation. With so many suppliers and devices available, each with varying systems and prices to match, it can be a little overwhelming knowing where to start.

By filling in our simple form, which should take no longer than a minute, you can compare the devices that are right for your business’ size, type and budgetary needs.