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Mobile Phone to Phone Tracking - "Cool but Scary" :-)

Updated November 2002 - but see footnote added in 2010

Where's dad ? ...... in Tesco's shopping ?

Phone Phone screen Where's dad ? Let's send a special text message to his mobile 'phone... wait a few seconds... ahh ! There he is - it says "Tesco n Bracknell" - so maybe he's met mum doing the weekly shop in the supermarket. Not like dad at all ! :-)

The above has been possible for several years - for those with the right hardware but now we are close to anyone with a mobile phone being able to call on this kind of information cheaply and rapidly. Everyone knows how useful this could be - particularly for knowing where the children are.

How would they do it ? Well first of all "Dad" in this example would have sent his family, friends, and anyone else he did not mind having the capability to track him - a special text message, including the correct password. When someone like his daughter wanted to know where he was, she simply retrieves the message from her mobile phone memory and sends it to dad's 'phone. Within a few seconds she receives details of where his 'phone - and probably him - are. He doesn't need to do anything, so if he were driving at the time, it would not matter.

How does it work ? Well there are basically two ways it can work. One involves dad having a special phone, or hardware added to it, which receives the message and sends back the information needed. However, in the near future it is more probable this will be provided as a service by the mobile phone system itself. You pay for the positioning service in the same way that you pay now for the text message service. The mobile phone system already knows where each mobile 'phone is, within a few miles, so the least it can do now is send back a message such as "North of Bracknell" - which is simply the text assigned to that mobile phone cell handing dad's 'phone. Better systems are being implemented in many countries that provide an accuracy of a few metres/yards rather than kilometres/miles. Some of these use GPS - but it does not matter to most people HOW it is done. What is important is that it works ! :-)

1:5,000 Map So what was that string of digits at the front of the message she received ?
512526N0004395W Tesco n Bracknell
- it was the latitude-longitude (lat/lon) of the position: either accurate (if from a GPS) or approximate (if based on the cell). What use is this ? Well, if this is typed into GPSS, the "free" GPS Software, it can bring up a map for any of over a hundred countries, some of street detail, showing you exactly where the position is. GPSS can be run on any PC such as your desktop PC used for Internet access. Other options, particularly for business applications or security, involve GPSS receiving the message automatically, without the need for the lat/lon to be typed in. This might also be done for a number of people or objects being tracked - see the CHASE page.

Many other uses of this lat/lon are possible, including using it to guide you to the location. Most hand-held GPS have this capability now, and some mobile 'phones, have a GPS, so can guide you there.

Robin Hi ! I've set up this page to help me contact those interested in developing business related to GPS and SMS (the GSM Short Message Service). More technical information about my software GPSS and SMS is on the SMS page and linked SMS Handler page. Right now several of us in different countries are collaborating in testing some of these tracking products and services: either just phone-to-phone or phone-to-GPSS PC. I have data suitable to support the facilities described above (e.g. "Tesco n Bracknell") and will be happy to put the right (business) people in contact with each other. But I suggest you start by a careful read of my Business Page.

"Cool but Scary" was one of the enthusiastic reactions I got in one of many local mobile 'phone shops, where I've asked if they've heard anything "on the grapevine" about these new 'phone tracking products and services. We all like the idea of tracking others, including our children, but we don't all like the idea of others tracking us :-)

Robin Lovelock, Sunninghill, UK. November 2002.

footnote added by Robin in June 2010: Since these ideas were first suggested a lot has happened with mobile 'phones and the Net. The simple text above, from another 'phone, or a miniture GPS tracker in the car, on a child, or on a pet, could include the same information or more - including a link to a web site like google maps for those 'phones that have web access. For those that are dumb phones, and if the tracker has a GPSS WAW file, it might describe in text where the 'phone is. The WAW (Where Are We) file might have landmarks put in the tracker for that particular user. S-911 from Laipac G-19 from San Jose Nav TR-101

Dad is 22 yards South West of Home.
LatLon: 51.39687,-0.66011
Speed:0.2392 GT03 Personal tracker and GT02 vehicle tracker

Things like "Dad", "Home" and lat/lon of "Home" are put into the tracker.

There are now many different personal GPS trackers to choose from, and some have good software inside them. Some manufacturers have products where the internal software can be changed by the distributor or technical end user. This is normally done by a PC program downloaded from the manufacturer's website. This would also configure the internal software for different languages in different countries. e.g. other (standard) text strings above could be modified: LatLon:,Course:,Speed:,Date:,Time:, URL:w Also, any bugs in the software can be corrected - all software has bugs or can be improved :-)

GPS Trackers are discussed in more detail on the AVL page.