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GPS Tracking Glossary

Decoding GPS: Your Ultimate Glossary to Navigating the Tracking Industry

When many people begin researching and learning about the various products offered throughout the GPS tracking industry they are often left feeling overwhelmed. Tracking System Direct understands that there are many terms and words associated with vehicle management and GPS monitoring technology that parents, businesses, and police agencies will likely hear for the first time as they begin their journey into the GPS and telematics industries. This glossary was designed to help bring simplicity and understanding to many of the terms, words, and phrases frequently used throughout the GPS monitoring industry, providing a resource for anyone interested in a complete and comprehensive overview of GPS-related definitions.


A-GPS is the acronym associated with the term “Assisted-Global Positioning System“. Assisted GPS basically refers to the combination of both GPS satellite and cellular/wireless technologies. A-GPS is a term often associated with and used to describe how location-based data recorded onto a GPS tracker is transmitted.


Active tracking is synonymous with the more commonly used term real-time tracking. Active simply refers to having instant remote access to GPS tracking data.

Alkaline Battery

A form of battery often used in both the GPS Tracking Key (AAA alkaline battery) and GPS Tracking Key Pro (AA alkaline battery) models, alkaline batteries are the most commonly used form of battery in consumer electronics products. Known for having a long shelf life, alkaline batteries are also viewed as being high-quality sources of power.

Atomic Clock

Although the name sounds pretty intimidating, an atomic clock is simply a way of calculating time through the periodic movements of atoms. Atomic clockwork is utilized by Global Positioning System units to provide a timing mechanism that allows GPS accuracy to be calculated with precision.

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.

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.

Covert Surveillance

The behavior or act of acquiring, observing or recording data or information related to the activities of another in a secret fashion. Private investigators and police departments have a fundamental need to gather information in a covert way, making vehicle tracking systems very popular among security professionals and law enforcement.


Form of a computer program that has controlling power over a device or GPS unit. When GPS tracking devices are connected to a personal computer it may be necessary or required to load new drivers to ensure proper system operation.

Elderly Tracking

The process of monitoring and observing the driving habits and behaviors of a senior citizen in an effort to improve personal safety. Many families choose to hard-wire real-time tracking systems to the vehicles being operated by an elderly family member to ensure that the senior is driving safely or not becoming lost.

External GPS Antenna

An essential piece of equipment or hardware that is used to acquire radio signals from GPS satellites, external GPS antennas are designed separately from the monitoring device. Although the external antenna is independent from the GPS unit, it allows the GPS hardware to capture GPS signals. External antennas are popular among businesses looking for some versatility and flexibility in regards to the placement of the tracking device.


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.

Google Earth

Satellite image program designed and updated by Google that many GPS systems use as a primary source of showcasing recorded or live tracking data. The computer information program offers users access to historical imagery, street views, 3D buildings and more.

GPS Data Encryption

Converting raw GPS info into a coded form for security. A military GPS device could encrypt its location data, safeguarding it from adversaries.


GPRS are the acronyms for “General Packet Radio Services”, which basically is in reference to a form of radio technology used by mobile communication devices and networks that allow the transfer of data.

GPS Navigation Device

The most commonly used form of GPS technology, navigation systems are electronic devices that are often on-board vehicles and installed on an automobile’s 12-volt system and placed on the front windshield. The GPS receives satellite signals and uses that data to accurately determine position. The devices then work with mapping programs to help drivers with routing or directions. This form of GPS technology is perfect for those traveling in new places, or who commonly become lost.

GPS Signal Jamming

Involves intentionally disrupting GPS signals. Thieves might use a GPS jammer to hinder a vehicle’s anti-theft system from relaying its location.

GPX Format

The data format allows GPS users to exchange files, regardless if the systems are supported by conflicting operating systems or programming software. GPX format provides users a unique way to write, read and download routes.


A term used to define “Global System Mobile Communications”, which is currently the only form of cellular service offered throughout Europe. An international standard for digital mobile telecommunications systems, this form of technology was created to provide an alternative solution to analog. Mobile communication devices and trackers that utilize GSM use SIM cards.


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.

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.


Acronyms for the “National Marine Electronics Association”, a unifying force behind the electronics industries that provides a file extension format that is an industry standard. Initially developed to aid in marine electronic equipment in the 1908s, the technology is now common among GPS technological systems.

Operating System (OS)

The software consists of multiple data and programs that basically operate on computers and manages hardware. Some of the most common operating systems people utilize everyday on their personal computers include Microsoft Windows programs and Mac OS X. However, Google has been in the process of creating a OS that many people believe could be one of the efficient.

Passive Tracking System

Commonly labeled as data loggers or receivers, passive trackers record GPS data and store that information to internal memory for review at a later time. The data from a passive tracker is manually downloaded view USB port or download cable, resulting in the system being much more cost-effective and not having monthly service fees. The GPS Tracking Key and GPS Tracking Key Pro are the two most popular passive tracking systems among consumers and businesses.


Radio Frequency Identification: A form of technology that utilizes radio frequency tags that are connected to objects that will transmit information or data to a receiver.

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 frequency or rate at which position updates are acquired and stored in the internal memory of a GPS receiver. 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.


Both a natural (When planets revolve around a star such as the sun) and unnatural phenomenon (Object created by man such as a space probe) where a particular object revolves around another object in regular intervals. Satellites are used for a variety of communication purposes.

Satellite Constellation

Is a synchronized group of satellites in space. The Global Positioning System (GPS) uses a constellation for global functionality.

Short Message Service (SMS)

A form of technology that is similar to that used by paging systems, SMS provides an avenue to send short text messages electronically to mobile communication devices such as cellular phones. Although the amount of data is often limited by a set number of characters, it is one of the most efficient ways to transmit data and alerts from a real-time tracking device to a user’s personal cell phone.


Telematics basically refers to the technology of transmitting, receiving, and storing data or information between telecommunication systems. Also referred to as telemetry, telematics plays a significant role in the GPS tracking industry because the technology is often used to describe the use of GPS vehicle management or navigational systems since the devices integrate computer and wireless technologies along with mobile communication systems for data transfer and reception.


The sophisticated process of accurately determining the exact position of a GPS receiver operating on Earth by using a mathematical system that measures distance via relative space between three GPS satellites orbiting in space. When a GPS system is placed in an optimum location where it has a direct line of sight to the sky, the process of triangulation results in GPS tracking data being accurate within 2.5 meters.

USB Port

Universal Serial Bus Ports are referred to as a standardized electrical point of connection on a personal computer that provides an avenue interface to numerous other electronic equipment such as printers, scanners, keyboards and more. Passive vehicle tracking devices such as the GPS Tracking Key have a USB drive engineered into the hardware, allowing users to connect the GPS system directly to a personal computer USB port to manually download GPS tracking data.


Established in the mid-1990s by the Department of Transportation, Wide Area Augmentation Services (WAAS) refers to a system that was created to boost accuracy and the availability of both GPS navigation and tracking data. Ground stations were developed and strategically placed throughout the country to monitor and observe GPS satellite signals, accounting for any gaps in service or errors, resulting in WAAS-enabled GPS receivers having superior accuracy of location-based data and position.

Water Resistant

One common misconception is that water-resistant is the same as waterproof. IT IS NOT! Water resistance refers to a limited ability to keep moisture off hardware, circuitry, and GPS components. People looking to use a car tracker that is water resistant on the outside of their vehicle should take additional precautions to safeguard their GPS tracking unit from the elements.

Matthew Henson
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