Cell phone tracking is a broad term that describes numerous methods of establishing the current geographic location and/or monitoring the movement and heading of a cell phone or mobile device. Cell tracking in this context refers to a form of network-based positioning that is often (incorrectly) referred to as triangulation. In the investigation industry it is commonly known as plotting or pinging.
Cell Tracking and the Law
Although cell tracking can be done on any network and in any country, its availability is usually strictly controlled by the network operators and its use is often tightly regulated by law. Even in countries that do allow cell tracking, there are generally restrictions placed on its use. To be safe, we will not entertain anonymous requests for cell phone tracking or even for more information about cell tracking. To actually utilize this service you will be required to provide verifiable identification information as well as proof of address details that will be retained for up to 3 years in the event that a criminal or other investigation is launched into your use of the service. Don’t bother making contact with us if you intend to use this type of service to monitor your spouse, spy on a competitor, stalk or harass someone, or infringe the rights and dignity of any person. The rest of the information on this page assumes that you are legally entitled to track a phone and that all legal requirements and responsibilities related to the tracking of that phone in your jurisdiction have been met.
Emergency Cell Tracking
In case of an emergency your first contact should be the police and/or emergency services. Please do not call us first as we are not an emergency service provider. If the police are unwilling or unable to assist you then by all means get in touch with us. We can usually facilitate the tracking of a phone through the police or through other legal channels or we can arrange location-related information in terms of the RICA Act. For this service we will charge our base hourly rate of R500 plus expenses.
What constitutes an emergency?
The RICA Act sets out the criteria that need to be met for a situation to be considered an emergency. In short, there must exist reasonable grounds to believe that the person in possession of the cellphone or mobile device…
- has threatened to take his or her own life,
- has threatened to perform an act which is likely to endanger his or her own life,
- intends to cause the infliction of serious bodily harm to himself or herself,
- is in (or is likely to be in) mortal danger,
- is dying (or is likely to die),
- is being (or has been) seriously injured.
The options below are the most commonly needed. If you have specific tracking requirements not covered by the services below then get in touch with us to discuss your options. All enquiries for this service must be made via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will not respond to anonymous enquiries, so if you can only email from Gmail or another free email service then please provide your full name and a landline number so that your bona fides can be verified.
PURPOSETo zero in on and confirm a person’s likely place of residence or employment.
HOW IT WORKSA location is obtained on two different days at around the same time (usually in the early hours of the morning for a residential address or late morning for an employment address).
PURPOSETo actively track a person who needs to be intercepted or apprehended.
HOW IT WORKSAt least 10 locations are obtained within a one hour period (the period can be extended to 2 hours by prior arrangement). Locations cannot be obtained quicker than 1 every 5 mins.
PURPOSETo obtain the current location (or the location as at a specific time)
HOW IT WORKSYou will either request an immediate location (the location at this moment in time) or a scheduled location (the location at some future date/time).
LAST KNOWN LOCATION
PURPOSEIntended for situations where the device is not turned on (i.e. is untrackable)
HOW IT WORKSThe last known location is often available even if the device is turned off. The last known location is usually only as accurate as the last cell tower used.
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How Cell Tracking Works
There are a number of tracking methods available on most networks. They include:
- Network-based Tracking
- Handset-based Tracking
- SIM-based Tracking
- Hybrid Tracking
This utilizes the network operator’s GSM infrastructure (together with software, complex alorithms and the laws of physics) to estimate or localize the phone’s current position relative to the cell phone towers in it’s vicinity. It does not use the Global Positioning System of GPS navigation satellites to calculate the device’s current location and therefore does not require access to the device being tracked. The downside of this, of course, is that it cannot deliver the degree of accuracy that GPS devices do.
Handset-based tracking has major advantages and major disadvantages. The biggest drawbacks are that it can only work on smartphones, and for it to work at all, certain software needs to be present on that target handset. On the plus side, all modern smartphones are equipped with GPS receivers which means that the location accuracy is generally much higher than network-based tracking. In addition to GPS, handsets can query the network infrastructure and obtain positioning data such as the COO (cell of origin), TA (timing advance) and NMR (network measurement report). This data can be used to approximate a location based on the enhanced observed time difference (E-OTD) and other signal timing methods. This is the preferred method of positioning used in systems like E911 in the USA.
SIM-based tracking is relatively new. The major advantages of SIM-based tracking is that it is device and network agnostic – that means it will work on any make or model phone and on any network. An applet (a small Java application) residing on the SIM card gathers location and signalling data from the networks and then uses complex algorithms to approximate a location. This data can then be sent via SMS or USSD. SIM-based tracking uses a fraction of the power that GPS does and it is able to provide an accurate location – even indoors. In many instances, the SIM card will have access to network data that the handset itself isn’t able to access, and on a whole, SIM-based tracking appears to superior.
Hybrid tracking solutions, as the name suggests, use a combination of the other methods plus additional telemetry and positioning data that might be available from WiFi, Bluetooth, HTML5 and other technologies. An example of hybrid tracking would be A-GPS (assisted GPS) which marries both GPS satellite location data with network-related data to improve the accuracy and turnaround of location results.