What is a Cell Phone Tracking System?

Alexis W.

A cell phone tracking system involves pinpointing the location of a mobile phone to track the person using it. Those conducting the tracking can use the features on the phone to obtain a physical location for the person carrying it. Typically, they system is associated with GPS, cell phone towers, E911 capabilities, pings, and the "location on/off" feature, all of which contribute to disclosing the carrier's location.

A 911 call from a cell phone goes to the nearest Public Safety Answering Point.
A 911 call from a cell phone goes to the nearest Public Safety Answering Point.

If a cell phone has a chip that works with the Global Positioning System (GPS), it can be easier to track. A GPS chip receives a signal from a government satellite to give directions based on the location of the device or of the person who has it. The system may use "pings," which are a systematic occurrence of rings/dings, or triangulation, which uses two visual landmarks to close in on a location.

Cell phone towers can be employed in tracking cell phones.
Cell phone towers can be employed in tracking cell phones.

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Generally, the GPS feature or the device is not able to send out signals, and it can only receive them. In order for the device to use the GPS function, it must at least contain a receiver and a cell phone modem. A phone on the GSM system can be tracked using the signals between two of the nearest cell phone towers to disclose the device’s location.

Cell phones are most commonly tracked by GPS.
Cell phones are most commonly tracked by GPS.

Emergency telephone services, or 911, also use a cell phone tracking system. Any 911 call from a cell phone is automatically routed to what is known as an Public Safety Answering Point, a call center that routes messages to the police, ambulance, or fire emergency service. Once an individual calls 911, his or her contact information is activated to assist emergency personnel.

A GPS chip receives a signal from a government satellite to give directions based on the location of the device or of the person who has it.
A GPS chip receives a signal from a government satellite to give directions based on the location of the device or of the person who has it.

Although most emergency telephone systems are equipped with upgraded E911 features, there are some that are not. The purpose of this upgrade is to accurately network with the cell phone system in order to process a 911 call location. Without it, emergency personnel are still able to close in on an emergency location using a cell phone tracking system with pretty good accuracy.

Cell phones also have a feature called "location on/off," which is often overlooked because it usually benefits the cell phone company. It also enables cell phone tracking, however, but only with the help of the cell phone company. When the feature is on, the company is able to immediately locate the phone. When the feature is off, the location and other information can still be found, but with delay. This feature can also assist with quickly locating emergencies, and it is not accessible by just anyone.

A phone on the GSM system can be tracked based on the two nearest cell towers.
A phone on the GSM system can be tracked based on the two nearest cell towers.

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Discussion Comments

Wisedly33

I used to think tracking systems on cell phones were kind of in the realm of Big Brother, but I don't feel that way anymore. I think now they're a good thing to have. Like Scrbblchick, I think tracking a cell phone location could help find someone who might be in trouble.

The feature could be very good for a vulnerable person, like a senior citizen or someone with a mental disability or mental illness who wanders away from home. These folks might be too confused to find their way home, and even if they did dial 911, they might not know where they are. A phone locator could help find these people in a short amount of time. Obviously, these persons should be encouraged to carry their cells everywhere with them.

Scrbblchick

The nice thing about a locator is that, if your phone is lost or stolen, the company can find it. I think they can even disable the phone if they find it. That would be a real advantage. A thief couldn't sell your phone because it wouldn't work. They might throw it away, or just leave it wherever and you might find it. Of course, that might be wishful thinking, too.

In any event, tracking a cell phone could also help law enforcement find a missing person. As long as the phone was turned on and was with the person, they would have something to track their whereabouts.

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