Monday, September 5, 2011

How Does Cell Phone Tracking Works?

(Your Guide to the Basics of Multilateration and GPS Tracking System)

If you’re using one of the newest models of cellular phones today, chances are you are among the 4.6 billion people in the world transmitting between 850-MHz, 900-MHz, 1800-MHz or 1900-MHz band of pure microwave frequency. I know that’s a bit technical, but don’t worry as I will peel away layer after layer of information to break it down to you in a more useful manner. Anyways, it is important to know and understand first the frequency or the band that these cell phones operate on, because that’s where the whole idea of cell phone tracking comes from. And the higher the mega Hertz (MHz) is, the stronger the signal you transmit. Later on I will be discussing how our integrated satellite technology and cell phone towers tracks your mobile phone through the microwave signal your cell phone emits.

Understanding Microwave

The term micro is a Greek word meaning very small, tiny or the numeric equivalent of -100,000 and the word wave denotes the wavelength pattern of the electromagnetic energy, thus microwave. The electromagnetic energy travels through the universe in various wavelengths and scientists and engineers were able to harness this energy for communications purposes. The term micro in signal propagation techniques means to make the wavelength “tiny” or to compress it, in the technical term this process is referred to as “signal encryption”. Originally the military used signal encryption to transmit information over the air without worrying much about the enemy deciphering it, because it’s too scrambled to decode. While on the commercial side the purpose of
using microwaves is to make it possible to transmit hundreds of thousands or millions of signals from one location. This mind-blowing efficiency means that a cell phone company can have millions of subscribers whom they will profit from, while the total cost of expenditures in setting up this system costs only 10% - 30% of their annual revenue. You may have noticed that the energy required to transmit such a signal is in the mega Hertz range. The word mega is another Greek word that means huge or equal to the value of +100,000. Well, in order for you to compress the signal you will need this much energy to do it. So when we say 100 micro-Ohms we literally mean -100,000 Ohms (Ω) and in the same way 100 mega-Volts is just 100,000 Volts (V).

Multilateration Tracking

The cell sites or communication towers are responsible for transmitting and receiving signals from people’s mobile phones. In fact their primary role is to traffic the network to avoid congestion, but their range of transmission is limited and has been estimated to be from 1 – 22 miles more or less, depending on the line of sight and possible interference. That is why there has to be many cell sites scattered in a densely populated area, because it helps to accommodate the number of subscribers and to ensure 99% transmission at all times. Now multilateration works by homing in on the closest tower in your area whether you are mobile or stationary. The cell phone company will be able to determine your proximity on any one of their cell site installations and then, bingo! You’re busted! Your mobile phone’s serial number is readily accessible to the cell phone company so there’s no fooling them, unless of course you turn off your phone (remove the battery too, because the tracking will not stop while you still got juice on it). Or you throw your phone away while you go as far away from it as possible.

Satellite or GPS Tracking

GPS stands for Global Positioning System that currently has 31 global navigation satellites from the U.S., while the Russians have 27 NAVSATs (navigational satellites) in constellation at about
200 nautical miles from sea-level. The Chinese and the European Union also plans to install their own version of GPS, but at the moment they are still in the development phase. GPS tracking works by triangulation, triangulation means that 3 orbiting GPS satellites scans the Earth’s surface as their signal beamwidth are overlapping with each other. The GPS satellites already have the exact measurements of the Earth, for example it knows that the circumference of the Earth is 24,859.82 miles, it also knows that the sphere of the Earth is divided in 360 degrees near-perfect radiants and is cross marked by longitudinal (horizontal/East - West) and latitudinal (vertical/North - South) divisions. 1° of longitude is about 69.11 miles along the equator and so on. The concept of triangulation is in theory the beamwidth of the GPS satellites are circular in form, the three overlapping rings will meet at a certain point along the Earth’s surface. The satellites will cross reference that location on their data (which is constantly being updated) and they can lock in on your phone’s position anywhere on the surface of the planet. The margin of error that these GPS satellites have is less than 5 feet from the target, so you can just imagine how accurate they are.

And that’s pretty much how cell phone tracking works and now you know how exactly does the cell phone company and the government monitor your mobile phones.


  1. We really in a technology era today, even with the use of cell phone we can be track! Scientist and Engineers are really great of making this kind of stuff; they are indeed making the whole world easier. This cell phone tracking is very useful to everyone.

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