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Duke of Edinburgh GPS Tracker Comparison – GSM Trackers Vs SPOT and Iridium
Duke of Edinburgh inspectors and activity providers now want to provide additional protection to their expeditions, in response to demands from local education authorities, and sometimes internal pressures and governance. Many have found that some of these needs can be met by supplementing their existing good practice with GPS tracking technology. There are three main types of GPS tracking device; GSM, Iridium and SPOT. All have different capabilities, and each has different costs of ownership. This is the third of three articles discussing the merits of each. This one is about GSM trackers for D of E.
GSM devices, such as SPOT and Iridium triangulate their location from satellites, but they transmit their location via mobile networks. Some transmit only on 2G, and other trackers transmit on both 2G and 3G networks. 3G networks transmit data quickly, but the range of 3G masts is only a few km, while a 2G range can be up to 10km. Additionally, while your cell phone may appear to have no usable signal on a given mobile network in an area, a good quality GSM tracker will still be able to function normally, as they only require a weak 2G signal to operate.
It is important that GSM trackers are compatible with a multi-network SIM card to give excellent performance. If instead, you fit a GSM tracker with a standard mobile SIM that is fixed to one mobile network, then it won’t be able to transmit if you go to an area where that one network doesn’t have coverage. This is where multi-network SIMs come in; depending on their type they will transmit on 2 or more networks, some 2G and some on 2G and 3G. It is important to question your GSM tracker about the SIMs they are using.
1) Does the SIM work on all mobile networks in the country where it is intended to be used?
2) Does the SIM work abroad?
3) Does the tracker/SIM only work on 2G, or does it work on 3G as well
For UK use, GSM trackers with 4-network multi-network SIMs will work in all popular dispatch areas for D of E; such as the Lake District, Peak District, Dartmoor and Exmoor. There may be small gaps in coverage, but generally these are small. Only very remote areas such as the most remote areas of the Cairngorms of Scotland would get value for money from Iridium or SPOT.
The next question comes down to hardware. There are many GSM trackers, and not all of them are good. First let’s deal with those of questionable reliability and operations. People are often tempted by a bargain; Tempted to buy a cheap tracker from an auction site or Amazon marketplace, for less than £50. These units are often advertised as pet, child or “senior” trackers. Almost all are of Chinese origin, and the instructions they come with make them difficult to set up. They usually fail to meet expectation when users realize that they are often only able to share their location when an SMS is sent to them, resulting in a return SMS delivering only a link to a static Google Maps view. There are some devices that provide login to a website where a location can be viewed on Google Maps. The reliability of these devices is usually very intermittent. Sometimes the servers they send the data to are unavailable because most of the tracking data is sent back to servers hosted in China. Due to the nature of location-based data and protection concerns, Duke of Edinburgh’s inspectors should seek advice from a school security consultant, and check their LEA policy, to see if it is appropriate for location data about their charges to be stored externally. of the EU.
If you hire or purchase your trackers from a reputable retailer that hosts data within the EU, a major security hurdle is immediately addressed. Expedition Tracking GPS dealers will host the data on UK- or EU-based servers, and then display that data on either Google, Openstreet Maps or Ordnance Survey Maps. Some of these map types require additional licensing, which is usually covered by dune fees or may require an additional monthly premium.
Mobile data is considerably less expensive than satellite data and so a typical monthly contract will cost less than £10 per month (versus £25 – £35 for SPOT and Iridium). Some companies’ GSM trackers can be used on a pay-as-you-go basis, so you only pay for months they are used, and the contract can be “winterized” for a small fee outside of those months. So typically a D of E season of should cost the school less than £70 per tracker, which is a fraction of the cost of a SPOT or Iridium for a year.
GSM trackers update much faster than SPOT and Iridium; typically every 90 seconds, but can be set to update as fast as once every 15 seconds, although this is more common for high-speed cycling events or motorsports. GSM trackers will transmit when under heavy tree cover, and often while still in buildings. They can also be remotely reset or programmed, which SPOT and Iridium cannot. GSM units have an SOS button that can be programmed to take any required action. A good seller will usually associate the SOS button with an SMS service to multiple recipients of your choice. Each recipient will receive the SOS SMS, detailing the time and location of the GPS unit requesting help.
Garmin’s Iridium trackers are powered by built-in lithium batteries. It is set to update once every 2 minutes, a standard 1300 Mah battery unit will last 4-5 days. GSM tracker 2000 – 2600 Mah battery will last 6-10 days. All GSM trackers can be recharged from mains USB, solar chargers, or power banks, typically in less than 3 hours.
GSM trackers are the most popular choice for UK Duke of Edinburgh GPS expeditions Schools deploy a hundred every day during D of E season. The low cost of hiring or ownership makes them attractive, along with their fast update speeds and high reliability. The key thing to remember is not to buy into the myth that GSM trackers don’t work in remote UK areas. That is simply untrue in most cases. Always check with a seller who sells all models and they will tell you what is best for you.
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