How Does Location Tracking Work in vWork?

Introduction

vWork is a business tool for getting the most out of your employees, your assets, and your time.

A key feature that many of our customers find useful is location tracking.

This article includes

What is location tracking?

The ability to see where your team is in real-time, on a map.  

Why use location tracking?

Using the GPS tracking enables you to both keep tabs on your workers as well as to make smarter dispatching decisions.

This article will provide an overview of how tracking works. It will highlight what factors may affect how accurate the location data is and how to interpret it.

How does location tracking work?

vWork mobile applications for Android and iOS both periodically report the location of the phone to our servers. This provides a snapshot of where the device was at a certain time.

By default, vWork will send one location every 30-60 seconds when the phone is plugged in, and one location every 1-5 minutes when the phone is on battery. If a dispatcher has the Map view open on the vWork website, we will send new locations to the map as we receive them. The Worker's icon on the map will move to the new location.

We also store this information for later retrieval, so that you can produce reports showing where your workers were over time.

How do I set the tracking levels?

For background tracking, you and your workers can select the level of tracking you would like. You can specify Operating Hours, whether you prefer to save power or get more accurate location data, or you can turn off location tracking completely.

After a fresh installation, the apps are configured as follows:

  • Tracking enabled
  • Operating hours: all day, every day
  • Accuracy: Automatic (high accuracy when charging, low power when on battery)

Positions will never be tracked if a worker is signed out of the app.

In addition to background tracking, job changes (such as editing fields or completing steps) that the worker's phone sends to the server, are geolocated.

This will also only happen during operating hours if position tracking is turned on. vWork will always attempt to use the most accurate location providers available when geolocating job updates.

Accuracy settings

The mobile apps allow you to specify how you would like locations to be gathered. The options are: Best Accuracy, Battery Saving, and Automatic.

In general:

  • Best Accuracy will always try and get the most accurate positions, regardless of battery life. Use this if the worker's location is crucial to your business.
  • Battery Saving will sacrifice accuracy for less power and data usage. Use this setting if you need to know with fair accuracy where your workers are, but also need their battery to last a long time.
  • Automatic will switch to low power mode whenever the phone is disconnected from the charger.

Because different mobile platforms have different capabilities and policies, the exact behavior of each setting varies.

Please note: Even with "Best Accuracy" selected, the locations we are able to display will only be as good as the device can provide, and various external factors may cause less accurate locations to be sent.

Click here to read about location providers and the factors that can influence accuracy.


vWork for Android
vWork for Android uses Google's Fused Location Provider. On battery, all settings reduce their power consumption slightly, by reducing the frequency and increasing the distance between locations.

Best Accuracy

  • GPS and Mobile providers
  • Sends locations every 30-60s (1-2 mins on battery)
  • Sends locations for every 10m moved (50m on battery). Max 1 every 10s (20s on battery).

Battery Save

  • Mobile and wifi providers, may supplement with GPS.
  • Sends locations every 30-60s (1-2 mins on battery)
  • When charging, also sends a location for every 50m moved. Max 1 every 20s.

Automatic (charging)

  • GPS and Mobile providers.
  • Sends locations every 30-60s
  • Sends locations every 10m moved. Max 1 every 10s.

Automatic (on battery)

  • Mobile and wifi providers, may supplement with GPS.
  • Sends locations every 1-2mins
  • Sends locations every 50m moved. Max 1 every 20s.

 

vWork for iOS
vWork for iOS uses Apple's location services. The settings have the following effect:

  • GPS: Requests that locations should have accuracy within 10m. This will generally mean that GPS is used. Locations with worse accuracy may still be sent.
  • Cellular: Requests that locations should have accuracy within 50m. In some areas, this will use Mobile location only. In other areas it may use the GPS from time to time.
  • Automatic: Switches between GPS (when charging) and Mobile (when on battery).

Regardless of this setting, the iOS app will also send a location every 10 minutes using the most accurate location provider available.

If the iOS app receives a location from the system that has lower accuracy than the previous one, it will not be sent unless the previous one is older than 10 minutes.

 

Please Note: The information in this article refers to the latest publicly available version of the vWork mobile apps on the date of publication. We are constantly evolving and improving our apps and tracking behaviour may change

What is location data?

In vWork, a 'location' refers to a few pieces of information bundled together. The most important are latitude, longitude, accuracy and time.

  • Latitude and longitude specify an exact point on the Earth's surface. This location is represented on the map.
  • Accuracy is a distance from that point, and indicates how close the device thinks it may be to that point. A good location might be accurate to within a few metres, a poor location may only be accurate to within 1-2km.
  • Time is the time on the device when the location was taken. This allows locations to be accurately reported on later even if the phone had no data connection to report its location as it was taken.

vWork locations may also include a speed, a heading and an altitude. Whether this extra data is available will depend on what type of location provider the device is using at the time that the location is sent.

What are location providers?

Modern smartphones have a few ways of finding out where they are. These are called location providers, and include GPS, Mobile networks and Wifi networks.

  • GPS uses a network of satellites orbiting the Earth to pinpoint the device's location. The more satellites the phone has a direct line-of-sight to, the more accurate the location can be. GPS uses a lot of power.
  • Mobile networks allow the phone to determine its location based on signals from surrounding mobile towers. There are a number of ways that this may work (see the Wikipedia article below), but at a high level: If towers A, B and C are visible, the device is somewhere where the signal from those towers overlaps. If the signal from A is strong from B and C is weak, it is within that overlapping area, but probably closer to A. This calculation can be done on the phone or by special equipment installed by the network provider.
  • Wifi networks involves the phone sending the fingerprints of the Wifi networks it can see to a service provider, which will turn that into a location. This information may be gathered by, for example, Google Street View cars scanning for wifi networks as they drive and storing their location and fingerprints.

More information:

Most phones will use a combination of these methods, as well as data from other sensors on the device, to provide accurate locations while reducing power usage.

For example, Google provides a way for Android apps to request "High accuracy" or "Low power" locations, and takes care of the details of providing those locations to the app in the most efficient way, using an intelligent combination of all the methods the device has to determine location.

What affects accuracy?

GPS accuracy is reduced when the phone has limited access to satellites, for example when indoors, underground, or surrounded by buildings that reflect or absorb the signal from the satellites.

Mobile networks are much less accurate than GPS, but the more towers are visible the more accurate they can be. They can locate the device to within a few blocks in a city, or to within a few kilometres in a rural area.

WiFi networks have fluctuating signals and their strength can be affected by walls and other networks.

Mobile devices with poor quality GPS hardware or driver software may also see less accurate positions. If accurate location data is vital, we recommend using good quality phones and testing that the locations provided are sufficiently accurate.

FAQ

  • Why do workers jump around or fly over buildings on the map? vWork can only show the data that it has received. If we receive locations one minute apart, we know where the worker was at those two times, but not which route they may have taken to get there.
  • Why can't you send a continuous stream of locations so that I can always see exactly where my workers are? We balance accuracy with mobile data usage and battery consumption. A constant stream of locations will consume a large amount of mobile data and battery.


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