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Location with smartphones: this is how mobile tracking works

Mobile tracking is a topic that remains topical, especially now that it will be used in the European Union in the fight against the coronavirus. Although for a long time people have been afraid of geolocation, that it is possible to know where they are at all times and this data is used without their permission. But it is also a subject on which little is known, and in which there are more myths than facts.

How does the Famisafe parental control app work? This is a subject on which Fernando Cuenca, founder of Panoramio, the first Spanish startup bought by Google. In a thread on Twitter, he has explained better how mobile tracking works, showing the methods used.

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There are several main methods used for mobile trackings, such as using GPS, antenna triangulation, WiFi, and others. The operation of each one of them is different, in addition to varying in the precision with which they can measure or detect the user’s location. A topic that had relevance these past months.

Antenna triangulation

This is a method that allows you to know where mobile is located without the need for applications. You simply check which antenna this phone is connected to. The operator will be able to see which mobiles are connected to said antenna, as well as how well or badly they receive the signal. The intensity with which this signal is received already gives information about its location at that moment.

Thanks to this it is possible to know the city in which you are. Also, in large cities, it is possible to have data on the area or neighbourhood in the city where the telephone is located. Depending on the strength of this signal, you can also know the distance at which it is from the antenna in question. If there are multiple antennas in that area, as in many large cities, the location of this device is more precisely known. This method is usually more effective in cities than in rural areas, although it is not the most accurate.


GPS is a method known to most, and we have previously explained how it works. To determine the location of a mobile, GPS makes use of satellites, which will allow it to establish said location. Although this method works very well outdoors, as we already know, indoors is where it has clear operating problems, which can be imprecise on many occasions or not working at all.

Although GPS has a clear advantage over antennas, for example, and that is that it is more accurate. In your case, the precision is about 10 meters, which allows you to have very clear information about the location of said mobile. That is why it is not surprising that applications such as Google Maps rely on this method.


Another method that can be used to determine the position of a mobile. When you activate WiFi on your phone, to see the number of available networks, the list is usually wide. Although you cannot connect to most of them, because they are protected by a password, this list serves as an indicator to determine your location, because you are in the radius of all these networks.

Also, Google used in its day the car with which it photographed the streets to store the WiFi networks in each area, something for which they were fined in their day, but it allows them to have quite precise data on the location. It can give data with an accuracy of between 40 and 50 meters, which is less accurate than GPS, but still better than antennas. Also, it is a method that consumes little battery.


The so-called Bluetooth LE Beacon, which what they do is emit a signal at a short distance (about two or three meters), and in this way, the location of the mobiles can be precisely established. Also, one of the great advantages is that these types of devices are cheap, which facilitates their application to determine the location of the mobiles.

This type of device can be used in many different actions, such as entering stores and receiving promotions from them, which would undoubtedly incite spending on the part of the user. Also, the phone can act as a sender and receiver in this case. It is a cheap method, which gives quite accurate data due to the short distance in which these devices are located.


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