Does US Cellular Have GPS Tracking of Kids' Phones?

by Christine Kim

Shortly after the tragic events of Sept. 11, the Federal Communications Commission's E911 mandated that all cell phones be engineered to include location capability, either via GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) or GPS chips. Unlike other major wireless telecommunications networks, such as Verizon, AT&T and Sprint, at the time of publication, U.S. Cellular does not directly provide family locator services. However, U.S. Cellular customers can download and install reliable GPS family locator programs onto U.S. Cellular-supported Android and BlackBerry smartphones. While they can also purchase affordable online tracking programs like AccuTracking, GPS tracking software programs that offer the same services can be downloaded for free.

How GPS Works

GPS and GSM are mathematical grid systems utilized by satellites and cell-phone towers; they identify positions of GPS tracking devices and mobile phones, respectively. In order for cellular tracking to work, an active call is not needed but a mobile phone must be turned on. While GSM tracking utilizes triangulation -- locating a position when two visible landmarks are known -- to locate the cell-phone user, GPS tracking systems use satellites. If the signals from the cell phone are strong enough, GPS satellites will be able to locate the caller's position accurately.

Android

U.S. Cellular customers who use Android smartphones can easily download several GPS locator programs, such as GPS Tracking Pro and Life360's Family Locator and Family Locator+. Each of these programs can be downloaded for free; parents can then install and create accounts on their children's Android phones in order to track their real-time locations. GPS Tracking Pro features check-in and panic alert programs, while Life360's Family Locator allows kids to save a history of their locations. Family Locator+, described by Life360 as the "intelligent digital guardian," offers a geo-fencing feature that sets off an alarm if children are no longer in designated areas.

BlackBerry

There are several GPS locator programs that parents can download onto their U.S. Cellular-supported BlackBerry smartphones to help track their children's locations. This includes Life360's Family Locator program, which offers the same location tracking features for the BlackBerry as it does for the Android. Alternatively, parents can download e-Mobile's Family Locator program, which not only locates their children but also lost mobile phones. With InstaMapper's GPS Tracker, parents can view their children's locations via a map on a Web page or a child's Facebook profile, as tracked locations can be embedded into online maps.

Reliability

For parents who are customers of U.S. Cellular, the GPS locator programs available for U.S. Cellular-supported Android and BlackBerry phones are free, accessible and easy to use. However, all of these programs also share shortcomings. When cell-phone batteries die, parents can no longer view their children's locations. Also, GPS signals cannot be detected by satellites when cell phones are not in coverage zones; this means that GPS locator programs will not be able to accurately track locations. Lastly, when using any GPS-enabled device, location accuracy can be off by several yards.

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About the Author

Christine Kim has been a writer and editor since 2002, working with Columbia University, Harvard Business School and University of Alabama Press. She holds a Master of Arts in interdisciplinary studies and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing.

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