Location tracking is the ability to use GPS information from a mobile device to see, in real-time, your team on a map and to capture their location coordinates for reporting. This is useful for tracking your workforce, making dispatch decisions, keeping your customers informed about the progress of their job, and auditing.
In this article
This article gives an overview of how tracking works. It highlights the factors that may affect how accurate location data is and how to interpret it.
- How does location tracking work?
- How to set tracking levels
- Accuracy settings
- vWork for Android
- vWork for IOS
- What is location data?
- What are location providers?
- What affects accuracy?
How does location tracking work?
vWork mobile applications for Android and iOS both periodically report the location of the device to our servers. This provides a snapshot of where the device is at a certain time.
By default, vWork sends location data every 30-60 seconds when the mobile device (phone or tablet) is plugged in, and every 1-5 minutes when the mobile device is on battery. If a dispatcher has the Map view open on the vWork website we send new locations to the map as we receive them. The worker's icon on the map moves to the new location.
We also store this information, for later retrieval, so you can produce reports showing where your workers were over time.
How to set tracking levels
Your mobile workers can select the level of background tracking on the mobile app. They can specify Operating Hours, whether they prefer to save power or get more accurate location data, or they can turn off location tracking completely. You need to consider what information you need mobile workers to provide and how they are using their mobile devices when recommending changes to the default location tracking settings on the mobile app.
The default settings for the vWork mobile apps are configured as follows:
- Tracking is enabled
- Operating hours: all day, every day
- Accuracy: Automatic (high accuracy when charging, low power when on battery)
- Positions are never tracked when a worker is signed out of the app.
- In addition to background tracking, job changes (such as editing fields or completing steps) are geolocated when the mobile app syncs with the server. Geolocation information is only shared with the server during operating hours when location tracking is turned on.
- vWork always attempts to use the most accurate location providers available when geolocating job updates.
The mobile apps allow you to specify how you would like locations to be gathered. The options are:
- Best Accuracy - always tries to get the most accurate positions, regardless of battery life.
Use this if the worker's location is crucial to your business.
- Battery Saving - sacrifices 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 - switches 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 by device.
- 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.
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.
- 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).
- Mobile and Wi-Fi 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.
- 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.
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. Tracking behavior 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 the distance from a point and indicates how close the device thinks it may be to that point. A good location might be accurate to within a few meters, 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 (also called Cellular networks) allow the phone to determine its location based on signals from surrounding mobile towers. There are several 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 within the area where the signal from those towers overlaps. If the signal from A is strong, and 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.
- Wi-Fi networks have the phone send "fingerprints" of the Wi-Fi 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 Wi-Fi networks as they drive and store Wi-Fi "fingerprint" locations that map to the images they capture.
- Wikipedia - Global Positioning System basic concepts
- Wikipedia - Mobile phone tracking Technology
- Wikipedia - Wi-Fi positioning system
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, 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 that are visible the more accurate they can be. Mobile networks can locate the device within a few blocks in a city, or within a few kilometers in a rural area.
Wi-Fi 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.
- 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 between points.
- 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.
- Can I track my workers even if they have disabled tracking on their phone?
If you need accurate tracking of Workers, even if they have disabled tracking or turned their phone off, you may want to find out more about vWork's integration with EROAD. The EROAD vehicle tracking device tracks workers based on GPS information captured by the EROAD device between the job start time and the job completed time. This article explains more: Connect EROAD to vWork