Passive vs. Active Tracking: How to Know Which Is Right for You

July 18, 2017 Published by

If you’re thinking of investing in a GPS tracking device, you’re probably going to run into a fundamental problem: do you need an active or a passive tracking device?

That’s right—not all GPS devices function in the same way or even in the same capacity! Knowing whether you need an active or a passive device for your purposes means first understanding the difference between the two—how they function, what features they offer, how they track and report data, etc.

Our passive GPS tracking systems are no longer supported. Going forward, we recommend the low-cost AirIQ Bat AA portable tracking systems.

Active vs. Passive

All GPS devices do the same thing: they locate position relative to the world around them. But this is where the similarities end. From this core concept you can either have passive reporting or active tracking:

  • Passive tracking – when a GPS unit gathers data that needs to be downloaded from the tracker. These devices do not report in real time. Instead, they silently collect data that can be viewed as a whole later on. Once data is downloaded, you’ll be able to see exactly where the tracker has been.
  • Active tracking – what we tend to think of when we think of GPS tracking devices from a movie-goer’s perspective. Active trackers continuously emit a signal that can be tracked up to the minute, wherever it may be. You don’t have to wait to download data—you can pop up a map and see for yourself where it is at any given time (barring interference).

Both types of tracker have their pros and cons, and both serve unique purposes when deployed. Now that you understand how they function, picking the right one for your needs becomes a little easier.

When to Use Tracking 

Based on the nature of each tracker, there are a few scenarios where one may be superior to the other, and vice versa. Some examples include:

  • For keeping tabs on an elderly person or someone suffering from Alzheimer’s, there’s no substitute for active tracking. You’ll be able to tell where they are at all times, eliminating that panic that comes when you can’t immediately find them.
  • For teen drivers, passive tracking is a great way to keep tabs on them. You might not need to know where they are at any given second, but you might like to know if they went somewhere they weren’t supposed to!
  • If you own a package delivery service, active tracking is a smart investment. Being able to see if something is out for delivery or if something has been stolen requires real-time capabilities.
  • Police or private investigators will often use passive trackers to help them keep tabs on the movements of a person of interest, such as a parolee or someone involved in an ongoing investigation.

Beyond Tracking to Telematics

With the latest technology, your choices aren’t limited to passive tracking and active tracking. You can have even more control over the movements of your fleet with telematics.

What is Telematics?

Telematics integrates tracking with remote vehicle controls, telecommunications, and scheduling. Telematics takes fleet management a level beyond mere tracking.

Real-time telematics doesn’t just tell you where your vehicles are or where they have been. Telematics tracking technology can help your company complete jobs with fewer miles, fewer hours, and lower fuel costs. With vehicle telematics, you don’t just track your vehicle’s location or its progress along its route. You can advise your drivers of construction, accidents, and traffic delays, so that you can keep tabs on your fleet on the road, in the yard, or parked at their destinations.

How Does Telematics Work? How is it Different from Tracking?

Telematic monitors are hard-wired into fleet vehicles and construction equipment. They don’t just monitor GPS data. They collect and transmit vital data about driver events as they happen.

Telematics gives you a lot more information than just a dot on a map. With telematics, you get constant reports of driver-generated data. Telematics tells you when your driver logs in, logs out, or experiences fatigue. Telematics can tell you when your driver has “put the pedal to the metal” and when sudden stops and swerves are necessary. Telematics can be integrated with real-time traffic monitoring.

Telematics can give you information about engine performance, fuel efficiency, and mechanical issues as they emerge in real time. SIM cards in telematic devices connect them to a secure network that sends data to your telematics software for summary and display on your office computers.

Here’s how telematics works from start to finish:

  • Telematics devices hard-wired into your fleet vehicles collect data from your driver and from the vehicle itself.
  • This data is transmitted through a cell carrier or by satellite to your company’s operation center.
  • Your telematics provider decodes the data, analyzes, and sends actionable information to you.
  • You view reports on your browser.

Why Use Telematics?

Telematics services usually pay for themselves. You can help your operators reroute around accidents, road construction, and weather issues. You will know immediately when a vehicle “falls off the radar.” You will be fully informed when your operators have to call in for instructions.

Telematics systems usually pay for themselves with increased operating efficiency. Location-based tracking helps managers know where company assets are at all times, and respond quickly when trucks and delivery vehicles “fall off the radar.” Location data is especially valuable to fleet managers who need to manage routing in real time.

Chances are that you hire great drivers. You don’t need a telematic system to know you can trust them. But telematics can give you the power to help when they need you.

Telematics can help your whole company develop a culture of safe, timely, smart decisions for moving freight and protecting drivers. It can help you build your brand by even better performance.

Our passive GPS tracking systems are no longer supported. Going forward, we recommend the low-cost AirIQ Bat AA portable tracking systems.


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This post was written by Malcolm Rosenfeld

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