The History of GPS and How GPS Trackers Work

The History of GPS and How GPS Trackers Work

To understand how a GPS tracker works, you must first understand what the Global Positioning System is.

A system that cost around $12 billion USD to build and launch, it’s absolutely incredible how the technology is now free for anyone to use. 

Split Screen of Soldier & Fleet

GPS technology is a mainstay in many of our lives today, but initially, it wasn’t available to the public.

It was created by the American government to provide all their military and state divisions with pinpoint precision accuracy.

While it was initially created to be used on anything from a uniformed soldier to an armada of ships anywhere on the planet.

You can now use it to navigate a new neighbourhood, order food to your home or find stolen vehicles.

But how is it so accurate?

The Origins of The Global Positioning System

GPS technology began to be developed back in the early 60s when the U.S. Navy needed a way to better track military assets.

By taking advantage of the “Doppler Effect”, scientists conducted experiments to track submarines carrying nuclear missiles.

Through the use of satellites orbiting the poles, submarines observed satellite movement using the “Doppler Effect” and were able to pinpoint the submarine’s location within minutes.

The next decade yielded advancements in the field, allowing the first Navigation System with Timing and Ranging (NAVSTAR) satellite to be successfully be launched in 1978.

Fifteen years later, the satellite system became fully operational.

But how does the Global Positioning System work?

How Does The Global Positioning System Work?

There are around 30 satellites on a predictable path orbiting around the Earth.

At any point on the planet, there will be at least 4 satellites visible to a single area.

Using multilateration – A way of locating an object by comparing timing intervals between signals emitted from different receivers – GPS is able to pinpoint your exact locations.

For the first few decades once the Global Positioning System was developed,  the public had access to a severely limited access.

So how did GPS fall into the hands of the public?


GPS Satellite

Korean Air Lines Flight 007

In 1983, a soviet SU-15 shot down a Korean passenger plane that accidentally strayed into prohibited Soviet airspace.

Because they didn’t have access to America’s GPS system, 269 lives were unnecessarily lost.

Crashed Plane

That very same year brought about a change in policy.

U.S. President Ronald Reagan announced that Global Positioning System would be made available for civilian use, all for free. The United States maintains the Global Positioning system by spending approximately $2 million dollars every day.

Free use of this technology didn’t come without a catch.

Initially, the signals were scrambled to make them less accurate for everyday civilian use.

This was an inhibiting factor for organizations and individuals looking to use GPS for what it was designed for; accurate locating.

Bill Clinton with a Globe

It wasn’t until 2000 that Bill Clinton signed a bill giving full, unscrambled access to all.

Unfettered use of this technology has been groundbreaking, but there is still one caveat: The Global Positioning System cannot be used above a certain height—approximately 10,000 feet.

This is to prevent missiles from using GPS as a targeting system.

So how does a GPS tracker operate?

How GPS Tracking Works

Let’s find out by using Solid GPS as an example. 

How Solid GPS Works

What occurs is your tracker picks up on multiple satellites orbiting the Earth, takes in their signal and calculates its own location.

In Solid GPS’ case that location data and other information is sent via the cell towers through either 3G or 4G.

Travelling at the speed of light that tracking information hits our servers, is unencrypted and ends up displayed on your dashboard.

Where you can see your GPS trackers last location and other useful tidbits like speed, direction, signal strength, etc.

Misconceptions About GPS Tracking

GPS tracking is a complex technology that is difficult to break down.

This means that there are many misconceptions surrounding it.

Such as:

Satellite in the sky

Why Should I Pay to Use Free Tech?

Since 1983, the use of GPS tracking technology has been free for everyone.

You may wonder why you need a SIM card for GPS tracking and why you can’t use a tracker without a subscription.

The answer is simple: GPS satellites are designed to only send out GPS signals, they don’t transmit incoming data.

For you to gain access to the data your GPS tracker stores, your tracker relies on SIM cards, cell towers and mobile networks to transmit that data to a server.

In our case, your data is sent to the Solid GPS servers and then your dashboard where you can view your tracker.

Solid GPS Dashboard on a Computer

How Can I Trust GPS

The GPS system most commonly used worldwide is operated and maintained by the United States.

It wouldn’t be outlandish to wonder how reliable that system really is.

While GPS has proven to be reliable thus far, many countries have chosen to safeguard themselves by running their own systems.

If America chose to shut off or limit their GPS system for any reason, there would be alternatives available. 

A few countries that own and operate through their own systems include the following:

India – NAVIC
European Union – Galileo
Russia – GLONASS
China – Bei-Dou
Japan – QZSS

Several of these countries also have their own satellites launched, ensuring strong signals over their regions. 

Location of Ark Tinting's Trailer

One of the biggest advantages we have to offer you is the fact that Solid GPS uses Multi-GNSS – instead of relying solely on America’s GPS system, we have access to multiple satellites from the other satellite constellations including Galileo, GLONASS, and Bei-Dou.

The SIM cards your tracker uses utilise the mobile networks of over 500 mobile carriers, allowing you to access all with your Solid GPS tracker.

In Australia, this means you’ll have access to both Telstra and Vodafone. 

The careful consideration we’ve given to the satellite systems of our choice ensures that we aren’t putting all our eggs in one basket.

Being invulnerable to a single point of failure makes our product reliable and able to help you track your assets as accurately as possible!



There also a bunch more misconceptions about GPS tracker you can learn about here

Here’s a picture of our tracking process again if you skipped over it.

How Solid GPS Works

If you have any more questions on how GPS trackers work shoot us an email at or go to our support page.

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