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On-Star Vehicle Tracking – How does it work?
By Nathan Lee


One of the concerns of those wishing to purchase GPS devices is the purported ability of the devices to track the user’s whereabouts at all times. I use the term ‘purported’ because there is nothing natively found within the GPS technology that would allow this sort of remote tracking. Nonetheless, logic only dictates that if you are able to locate yourself on a map, anyone should be able to pinpoint your exact location as well. GPS can be used to pinpoint a location, but only in conjunction with other technologies, such as the system used in the On-Star vehicle tracking.

Let us first go over the basis of what occurs when a GPS device is used for tracking. When your GPS device is first turned on, it attempts to lock onto three of the GPS satellites overhead. Once the lock is established, the device begins receiving a stream of data, of nothing more than timestamps sent from the satellites. Imagine each GPS satellite as a large clock, doing nothing more than broadcasting its local time to users on earth. The system is designed to be passive in this way – as all location calculations are done by the GPS device itself.

This brings us to the topic of our article – how is GPS technology able to pinpoint your exact location? On-Star has a series of advertisements online and on television showing the victim of a car-theft. It explains that if the car has On-Star onboard, then the On-Star station can track the car’s location, providing that information to police. The reason that On-Star can track your car’s location is because of a convergence of technology – GPS to determine your exact latitude and longitude, and cell-phone transmitters to send out the information.

So basically, your car is acting as a large cell phone when it is being tracked. The On-Star station will call into your vehicle and request the GPS coordinates from your car. Then information is then sent back out on the GSM internet network, the same network that your cell phone uses to browse the internet. The use of cell phone receivers is also the reason that with On-Star, you can speak directly to On-Star customer representatives through your car.

Hopefully, people will have a new view of GPS tracking technology. GPS can only track you if you purchase the additional equipment for it to track you. In fact, GPS is designed so that by itself, it could not possibly find out where you are. So for those who have worried about the ability of GPS to track you – forget those fears, and feel free to purchase any new or traditional GPS device.

Posted August 1, 2004


More Guides
Glossary of GPS Terms July 28, 2004
The Galileo Positioning System August 21, 2004
On-Star Vehicle Tracking – How does it work? August 1, 2004
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