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GPS Tracking Glossary

GPS Tracking Glossary Of Terms

When you start researching GPS tracking products, you might feel overwhelmed. You will encounter many terms associated with vehicle management and GPS monitoring technology. Parents, businesses, and police agencies often hear these terms for the first time. We here at Tracking System Direct recognize this challenge. That is why we created this glossary to simplify frequently used GPS tracking terms so you can better understand everything. In this article, we provide a comprehensive resource for anyone seeking an overview of GPS-related definitions.


A-GPS, or Assisted GPS, enhances traditional GPS by using cellular networks to improve location accuracy and speed. It works by combining GPS satellite signals with data from local cell towers. This hybrid approach reduces the time needed to acquire a position, known as Time to First Fix (TTFF). A-GPS is especially useful in urban areas where buildings can obstruct satellite signals. It also improves performance in poor weather conditions or indoor environments. When selecting a GPS device, A-GPS can provide faster and more accurate positioning, enhancing your navigation and tracking experience.


Active, or real-time, tracking provides continuous location updates, allowing you to monitor movements instantly. It involves GPS devices transmitting data at regular intervals, ensuring up-to-date information. This type of tracking is crucial for real-time monitoring of vehicles, assets, or individuals. It enhances security and operational efficiency by providing immediate alerts and updates. Real-time tracking uses cellular or satellite networks to transmit data, offering constant visibility. When you need precise, immediate location data, choose active tracking for its reliability and responsiveness.

Alkaline Battery

An alkaline battery uses an alkaline electrolyte, typically potassium hydroxide, to produce energy. Unlike zinc-carbon batteries, alkaline batteries last longer and maintain a stable voltage. They are commonly used in GPS trackers due to their reliability and long shelf life. These batteries are also leak-resistant, ensuring the safety of your device. Additionally, they perform well in a wide range of temperatures, making them ideal for outdoor use. Alkaline batteries are what are used to power GPS data loggers such as the LandAirSea GPS Tracking Key.

Atomic Clock

An atomic clock measures time based on the vibrations of atoms, typically cesium or rubidium. It provides extremely accurate timekeeping, far surpassing conventional clocks. GPS satellites use atomic clocks to synchronize signals and ensure precise positioning. The clock’s accuracy directly impacts the GPS system’s reliability. By reducing timing errors, atomic clocks enhance navigation and location tracking. These clocks maintain their precision over long periods, ensuring consistent performance. When using GPS technology, the atomic clock’s role is crucial for maintaining synchronization and accuracy.

Auxiliary Power

Auxiliary power refers to the supplemental or secondary source of power that is used by a tracking unit or electronic device. This could refer to a GPS unit using an alternative source of power such as a cigarette lighter adapter to power the system rather than the device’s primary source of power, an internal battery system such as a lithium-ion or alkaline.

Base Station

A base station serves as a reference point for GPS systems, providing correction data to enhance accuracy. It communicates with GPS satellites and transmits precise location information to GPS receivers. By doing this, it corrects signal errors caused by atmospheric conditions or satellite orbit variations. Base stations are essential for applications requiring high precision, such as surveying, mapping, and construction.

Car Tracker

GPS vehicle management system that is used to monitor the movements of any automobile. Commonly used by parents to observe teen driving behaviors, businesses to monitor employee driving activity, and police agencies to conduct surveillance.

External GPS Antenna

An external GPS antenna enhances signal reception by connecting to a GPS device, providing better accuracy and reliability. It is designed to capture satellite signals more effectively, especially in challenging environments. External antennas are often used in vehicles, boats, and buildings where internal antennas may struggle. They help overcome obstructions like metal, glass, or dense foliage. By improving signal strength, an external GPS antenna ensures more consistent and precise location data. When you need reliable GPS performance in difficult conditions, consider using an external antenna for enhanced tracking capabilities.


Firmware is specialized software embedded in GPS devices, controlling their functions and performance. It resides in the device’s memory, enabling hardware components to communicate and operate correctly. Firmware updates improve device functionality, fix bugs, and enhance security. Regularly updating firmware ensures your GPS device performs optimally and stays current with new features. When managing your GPS device, check for firmware updates to maintain its reliability and efficiency.


Geo-fence, or geo-fencing, is an alert feature that is common among many real-time tracking systems. Essentially how the feature works is by allowing the user to set a virtual boundary or “fence” around a particular area on a map. The alert is programmed into the GPS unit, and when the object/asset being monitored enters or exits through that virtual boundary an alert is sent to the GPS user via email or cellular text message.


The process of linking, connecting, or tagging forms of digital media such as photographs, video data, RSS feeds or even web pages with geographical data that includes longitude and latitude positions acquired through GPS tracking. This feature is popular among outdoor adventurists who enjoy documenting their journeys and uploading the information for friends and family.

Global Positioning System (GPS)

The heart and soul of both the GPS vehicle tracking and GPS navigational industries. The most simplistic way to describe the Global Positioning System would be as an organized network of satellites orbiting the planet that were designed and are controlled by the U.S. Department of Defense.


GLONASS, or Global Navigation Satellite System, is Russia’s satellite-based navigation system. It provides global coverage and complements GPS for improved accuracy and reliability. Devices using GLONASS receive signals from its satellites, enhancing positioning in challenging environments like urban canyons or dense forests. GLONASS is crucial for applications requiring precise navigation, such as aviation, maritime, and land surveying.

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GNSS, or Global Navigation Satellite System, encompasses all satellite-based navigation systems worldwide. This includes GPS (USA), GLONASS (Russia), Galileo (Europe), and BeiDou (China). GNSS provides global coverage, ensuring accurate positioning, navigation, and timing data. Devices using GNSS can receive signals from multiple satellite constellations, improving accuracy and reliability. This system is crucial for various applications, including aviation, marine, surveying, and personal navigation.

Google Earth

Google Earth is a virtual globe application that displays satellite imagery, maps, terrain, and 3D buildings. You can explore and analyze geographic data from around the world. View GPS coordinates, create custom maps, and share your findings. Use Google Earth for education, planning, and exploration, providing detailed visual context for various projects. The tools enable you to measure distances, visualize changes over time, and explore remote locations

GPS Data Encryption

GPS data encryption secures location data by converting it into an unreadable format, protecting it from unauthorized access. This process uses algorithms to ensure that only authorized parties can decrypt and access the data. Encryption enhances the security of GPS tracking systems, safeguarding sensitive information during transmission. It is crucial for applications involving personal, commercial, or governmental use. By preventing data breaches and unauthorized tracking, GPS data encryption ensures privacy and trust.


GPRS, or General Packet Radio Service, is a mobile data standard that allows continuous data transmission over cellular networks. It enables GPS trackers to send real-time location data to servers or mobile devices. GPRS offers faster data rates compared to older technologies, enhancing tracking accuracy and responsiveness. It supports various applications, including navigation, fleet management, and asset tracking. With GPRS, you get constant connectivity and efficient data transfer.

GPS Receiver

A GPS receiver is a device that receives signals from GPS satellites to determine your precise location. Processing these signals provides coordinates, speed, and time information. GPS receivers are used in various applications, including navigation, mapping, and tracking. They come in many forms, from handheld units to integrated systems in vehicles and smartphones.

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GPS Signal Jamming

GPS signal jamming occurs when a device intentionally interferes with GPS signals, causing disruptions. Jammers emit radio frequencies similar to GPS signals, overwhelming them and making receivers unable to calculate positions. This can lead to lost signals and inaccurate location data. Signal jamming poses significant risks to navigation, security, and communication. It can impact personal devices, commercial fleets, and even military operations. To combat jamming, many GPS systems incorporate anti-jamming technology, ensuring continuous and accurate signal reception. Understanding and mitigating GPS jamming is crucial for maintaining reliable navigation and tracking.

GPX Format

GPX format, or GPS Exchange Format, is an XML schema designed for sharing GPS data. It stores waypoints, tracks, and routes, making it easy to exchange data between devices and applications. GPX files are text-based, which allows for easy editing and viewing. Many GPS devices and software programs support GPX, enhancing compatibility and user experience. This format is widely used in outdoor activities like hiking, biking, and geocaching. When you need to share or analyze GPS data, GPX format provides a flexible and accessible solution.


GSM, or Global System for Mobile Communications, is a standard developed for mobile phone networks. It enables devices to communicate using SIM cards, ensuring worldwide compatibility. GSM networks are widely used for transmitting voice and data, including GPS tracking information. This standard supports various bandwidths, enhancing connectivity and reliability. GSM technology allows GPS trackers to send location data to servers or mobile devices in real time.


The connection between electrical wires/cables and a vehicle’s or piece of equipment’s circuit (Often a 12-volt system in automobiles). This form of connection offers an alternative source of power that can keep a device powered by means other than an internal battery.


Reference to a point of interaction among a particular set of components. Applicable to both levels of hardware or software, an interface provides independent objects with the ability to communicate with each other via a connection, device, or another form of system. Past-Track monitoring software interfaces with Google Earth software, allowing a GPS user to view recorded GPS data over the satellite image program.

Internal Antenna

A piece of hardware that is essential in acquiring GPS signals so a system can calculate data. Unlike a n external antenna, internal antennas are designed into the GPS unit itself. This engineering design allows tracking devices increased portability.


Latitude is the geographic coordinate that specifies a location’s distance north or south of the equator. Measured in degrees, it ranges from 0° at the equator to 90° at the poles. Latitude lines run parallel to the equator, helping to determine precise positions on Earth. When using GPS, knowing the latitude helps you pinpoint your exact location.

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Lithium Battery

One of the newest forms of battery technology, lithium-ion batteries provide long-lasting power and are much lighter than alkaline batteries, making them much more efficient for high-tech systems. Lithium batteries have a long shelf-life, and most importantly are not susceptible to leaking like alkaline batteries.


Longitude is the geographic coordinate that specifies a location’s distance east or west of the Prime Meridian. Measured in degrees, it ranges from 0° at the Prime Meridian to 180° east or west. Longitude lines run from the North Pole to the South Pole, intersecting latitude lines. When using GPS, knowing the longitude helps you pinpoint your exact location.

National Marine Electronics Association (NMEA)

National Marine Electronics Association, or NMEA, sets the standard for communication between marine electronics and GPS devices. NMEA protocols format data into readable sentences, allowing different devices to share information seamlessly. These sentences include essential GPS data like coordinates, speed, and time. NMEA standards ensure compatibility and interoperability among various navigation and communication systems. This protocol is widely used in marine and land-based GPS applications.

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Operating System (OS)

An Operating System (OS) is the software that manages hardware and software resources on a device. It provides the necessary environment for applications to run and perform tasks. The OS handles processes, memory, storage, and device communication, ensuring efficient operation. GPS devices use operating systems to run navigation software and manage data. Common OS examples include Android, iOS, Windows, and Linux. When choosing a GPS device, consider its operating system for compatibility and functionality.

Passive Tracking System

A passive tracking system collects and stores GPS data for later retrieval and analysis. Unlike real-time systems, it does not transmit data continuously. Instead, the device logs information such as location, speed, and routes, which you can download once the device is retrieved. This system is ideal for monitoring past activities, managing fleet operations, and analyzing travel patterns. Passive tracking systems typically offer longer battery life since they do not require constant data transmission.


RFID, or Radio Frequency Identification, uses electromagnetic fields to identify and track objects equipped with tags. These tags contain stored information, which RFID readers capture and transmit to a database. Unlike GPS, RFID operates over short distances, making it ideal for inventory management, asset tracking, and access control. RFID systems consist of tags, readers, and a network for data transfer. They provide quick, automatic identification without line-of-sight requirements. When managing assets or inventory, RFID offers an efficient, reliable solution for tracking and data collection, enhancing operational efficiency and accuracy.

Real-Time Tracking

A form of GPS tracking that allows users to remotely access GPS data live as it happens. The real-time tracking unit receives GPS signals and then transmits that information via wireless networks, allowing users to have instant access to the location of a person, vehicle, asset or object. This form of GPS tracking is commonly used in fleet management and auto-theft recovery applications.

Sampling Rate

The sampling rate is the frequency at which a GPS device records location data. It determines how often the device captures and logs position information. A higher sampling rate provides more detailed and accurate tracking, crucial for high-speed activities or precise navigation. Conversely, a lower sampling rate conserves battery life and storage but offers less detail. Selecting the appropriate sampling rate depends on your specific tracking needs. Think of the sampling rate as “bread crumbs” strong across a path, independent pieces of data that are used in conjunction with one another to provide GPS users with a way to monitor travel.


A satellite is a man-made object that orbits the Earth, transmitting signals used for communication, navigation, and data collection. GPS satellites broadcast signals that GPS receivers use to calculate precise locations. They form part of a satellite constellation, working together to provide global coverage. Satellites play a crucial role in various applications, including weather forecasting, television broadcasting, and scientific research. When using GPS technology, satellites ensure you receive accurate and reliable positioning data.

Satellite Constellation

A satellite constellation is a group of satellites working together to provide global coverage and continuous data transmission. These satellites orbit the Earth, ensuring reliable GPS signals for navigation and tracking. Constellations like GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, and BeiDou offer varied coverage and redundancy, enhancing accuracy and reliability. Each satellite in the constellation transmits signals used by GPS receivers to calculate precise locations. Understanding satellite constellations helps you appreciate the robustness of GPS systems, ensuring accurate and dependable positioning worldwide. When using GPS technology, satellite constellations play a vital role in delivering consistent and accurate data.

Satellite-Based Augmentation System (SBAS)

SBAS, or Satellite-Based Augmentation System, enhances GPS accuracy, integrity, and availability by using additional satellites and ground stations. It provides correction data to improve positioning, especially in regions with challenging environments. Systems like WAAS (USA), EGNOS (Europe), and MSAS (Japan) are examples of SBAS. They offer better accuracy than standard GPS, often down to within one meter.

Short Message Service (SMS)

Short Message Service (SMS) allows the exchange of short text messages between mobile devices. It uses standardized communication protocols to send and receive messages over cellular networks. GPS trackers often use SMS to transmit location data or alerts, ensuring reliable communication. SMS is particularly useful in areas with limited data coverage, providing a fallback for data transmission. It offers a simple and efficient way to receive updates and notifications from GPS devices.

Subscriber Identity Module (SIM Card)

A SIM card, or Subscriber Identity Module, stores information that authenticates your identity on a mobile network. It is essential for GPS trackers that use cellular networks to transmit data. The SIM card allows the device to connect to the network, send location updates, and receive commands. You can choose from various data plans depending on your usage needs. When setting up a GPS tracker, ensure the SIM card is activated and inserted correctly.

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Telematics combines telecommunications and informatics to transmit data from vehicles to a central system. This technology collects and analyzes information such as GPS location, speed, fuel usage, and vehicle diagnostics. Fleet managers use telematics to monitor vehicle performance, optimize routes, and improve safety. It enhances operational efficiency by providing real-time insights and alerts. Telematics systems often integrate with GPS tracking, offering comprehensive vehicle management solutions. When managing a fleet, telematics ensures you stay informed and make data-driven decisions, improving overall productivity and safety.


Triangulation determines a precise location by measuring distances from three known points, typically GPS satellites. This process involves calculating angles and distances to pinpoint an exact position. GPS devices use triangulation by receiving signals from multiple satellites and measuring the time it takes for each signal to arrive. This method enhances accuracy and reliability in navigation and tracking. Triangulation is essential for applications like mapping, surveying, and geolocation services. When using GPS technology, triangulation ensures you get precise and dependable location data, crucial for accurate navigation and tracking.


WAAS, or Wide Area Augmentation System, enhances GPS accuracy by using ground stations and geostationary satellites. It corrects GPS signal errors caused by atmospheric disturbances and satellite orbit variations. WAAS provides improved positioning accuracy, often down to within three meters. This system is particularly useful for aviation, marine navigation, and precise land surveying. It ensures that GPS data remains accurate and reliable, even in challenging conditions. When you need highly accurate GPS information, WAAS offers significant enhancements over standard GPS systems, ensuring dependable and precise navigation.

Matthew Henson
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