Every smartphone these days come with GPS chip installed. You might think of GPS as the easiest way to get driving directions while commuting. But do you realize the other uses of it?
- Parents can use them to monitor their children,
- Friends can use them to keep up with one another’s hangouts,
- Travelers can use them to find local information and directions wherever they are.
Mobile phone tracking or Smartphone tracking or simply, GPS tracking is the process through which a functioning mobile phone is detected and localized on the globe (even on the move!)
From Wikipedia –
To locate the phone, it must emit at least the roaming signal to contact the next nearby antenna tower, but the process does not require an active call. GSM localization is then done by multilateralism based on the signal strength to nearby antenna masts
Update: The article was updated on 25/02/2020 with newer software and apps for smartphone tracking.
How Mobile Phone Tracking Works?
First, the Cell phone tracking system detects the closest cell phone tower to the phone, estimates the distance between them, and after that, it interpolates signals between adjacent antenna towers to make a more exact approximation. This is called network-based tracking. This doesn’t involve GPS tracking and instead relies on the SIM card being present in the phone and interacting with the nearby base stations (or cell towers).
The second method involves the GPS (or GLONASS) unit present on the smartphone. GPS is the U.S. satellite-based navigation system that uses a network of 24 satellites to provide 3-D locating data to GPS receivers on Earth. While it started for military use, it was later allowed for consumer use. GPS tracking is mostly accurate (most to within 15 meters or better of accuracy). In 2018, some smartphone OEMs started using Dual-band GPS which increases the accuracy to within about 30cm.
Can you track a phone which is switched off?
Over a period of time, several readers have asked if they can track a mobile phone which is switched off. Unfortunately, the answer is NO. The reasons are clearly explained above. When the phone is switched off, or the battery is dead, there is no way it can emit signals. So it makes all sense to be safe now than sorry later. If you own any smartphone, be it an Android device or an iPhone or a Windows phone or even a Blackberry, install one of the apps we are going to discuss below to help you keep track of your mobile phone at all times.
Smartphones like Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android bring GPS tracking and applications directly to people’s pockets. And with the right software, one can even have free GPS phone tracking.
Please note. You should not confuse Phone Tracking with Phone Spying. We have a detailed article on Spy Apps for your iPhone and Android smartphones which will also let you track the location of phones you are spying on, but it has a much wider use case.
Track iPhone Location for Free
The iTunes app store is rich with millions of apps, and that really helps while tracking phones too. I have written a detailed post on how to track iPhone using various apps and services available, including the very useful ‘Find my iPhone‘ feature from Apple. Do check it out. I’m sure it will be of some help.
Important: The Find My iPhone app should come pre-installed on any iOS 5+ device. In any case, you can borrow an iOS device from a friend and log in using your Apple ID. Once you’re logged in, the app will display your lost iPhone’s location on a map. You can even remotely trigger your lost iPhone to make a loud noise for two minutes, which makes pinpointing it easy when it’s nearby.
Bonus Tip: iPhones running iOS 10 or newer can continuously send location information to another iPhone, iPad or Mac computer. On the person’s iPhone you wish to track, go to Messages >> look for the message thread the person had with you. On the upper-right corner, touch “Information” (i) icon. Tap, “Send My Current Location” to instantly send a map of the phone’s current location, one time only. Or just below it, “Share My Location,” which will continuously send the phone’s location to your Apple device. To see the phone’s location, go to your Messages app and find that person’s contact. Tap the “Information” icon, and a map will display the phone’s location. Note that the person can easily turn off this location sharing anytime.
How to Track Android Phones
Like iPhone owners, Android phone owners too can track their lost phones using some great GPS based apps. WaveSecure is one such app which can track android phones and even lock down the phone remotely. I suggest you check out these Android security apps and install one of them for your own good before it is too late.
Update: Google has announced Android Device Manager which is very similar to ‘Find my iPhone’ feature of iOS. This is available for all android devices running OS version 2.2 and above. The tracking is enabled by default, but in order to erase the phone remotely, one has to follow few steps as described here.
Important: In case you have already lost your Android smartphone and don’t have any of the above apps, not everything is lost yet. You can log in to your Google account and remotely install the app called Plan B on your lost smartphone from any computer. Assuming your phone is somehow connected to the internet, the app must be able to install on your phone automatically and when the installation is complete, it should send the current location info to your Gmail account.
Free GPS Cell Phone Tracking Software – Prey
Prey is a popular phone tracking software which is free to use for up to three devices which includes both phones and PCs. If you want to track more devices, you can choose one of the many paid plans available. This is best used before you lose your phone. All you need to do is sync your devices with it, sit back, and relax. It runs discreetly in the background, and whenever your phone goes missing, you can simply log into a computer and start tracking your phone. You can even get reports with pictures taken from your device, lock your device remotely or trigger a loud alarm. You can download Prey for Android and iOS, and also for Mac and Windows if you care.
Free cell phone tracking solution – Mologogo
Mologogo offers free cell phone tracking solution for the handset. Mologogo allows anyone with a GPS enabled phone to be tracked as long as the phone is operational. Basically, the user downloads software to the phone which in turn sends updates to the Mologogo website which tracks the cell phone and displays updates as to where the cell phone is.
It not only shows where your friends are but it can also send alerts when your friends are close, finds points of interest, and display traffic and weather updates. Tracking your phone from the web is now possible, thanks to services like Mologogo.
Phones which work with Mologogo – Full List here.
Another FREE cell phone tracking service – mobile-tracker-free.com
Mobile Tracker Free, as the name suggests, is a quality phone tracking and monitoring solution which comes with a lot of free features and some exclusive premium features. This can track Android smartphones including WhatsApp and Facebook messages. Mobile Tracker Free lets you locate a mobile phone and have a history of GPS positions. You can retrieve the GPS position of the phone every 15 minutes. You can even use the mobile network to track the location if GPS is disabled.
Phone Tracker from Spy Phone Labs
If you are a parent who frequently worries about the safety of your kids, then this phone tracking app from Spy phone labs can come to your rescue. It gives a piece of detailed information about any phone or tablet you put it on. It uses GPS to track the phone’s location, gives you a full log of all calls sent and received, and even shows you text messages and web activity. The phone tracker app is available for Android and iOS. Once installed, the tracking information will be available on the website http://www.phonetracker.com (of course you would need to create a free account). But please be aware that the website has several confusing ads at the top of the page. Just look for the blue ‘login’ button.
Free Phone Tracking for BlackBerry & Windows Phone
There are quite a few BlackBerry Tracker apps, some of them are free, while others are paid. MoosTrax is one of the decent free tracking apps. Another free Blackberry tracker is an aptly named app called Phone Tracker – Anti Theft and tracking. A reliable third party app is Berry Locator which costs $7, but lets you track phone from your PC.
Update: In BlackBerry 10, there’s the BlackBerry Protect service also has these same features like ‘Find my iPhone’ and ‘Android Device Manager’, but you’ll need to turn BlackBerry Protect and its tracking service on first. If you haven’t lost your phone yet, make sure these settings are on. To find your missing phone, Log in to the BlackBerry Protect website, and click View Location. If the service can find your phone, its location will appear on a map.
Windows Phone users can make use of Microsoft’s My Phone service to track their phones. Again, very similar to other tracking services and very useful.
There are many phone tracking software out there which can work on non-smartphones with just access to GPS. Our favorite one is AccuTracking. It’s not completely free, but the thing is it works with just GPS access on a wide variety of feature phones. Once you set up the service, if at all your phone gets lost, you can simply log into your Accutracking dashboard from any computer, and it can send you the location of the phone (assuming the phone isn’t switched off).
Can I track my phone if someone made a factory reset?
This is one of the most popular questions I have got through the comments section below. The simple answer is NO. As the name implies, doing a factory reset completely erases all the account information and any trace that says the phone belonged to you. Be it an iPhone or Android phone; it’s necessary to have the account information (Apple ID or Google account) intact on the phone in order to track its location. This is why I’d suggest an app like Cerberus to be installed which has root access. I’m sure some of you might ask, what about IMEI tracking? Read on.
Can I track a phone using IMEI number?
Technically, Yes. But practically, No. Let me explain. An IMEI number is unique to every phone. So a phone manufacturer or a telecom operator should technically be able to track a phone with a particular IMEI number. For some specific cases, we have seen the Police instructing the telecom operators to track a particular IMEI and nail down the location of the phone, but practically, they don’t do that with all ‘lost phone’ cases. So the only way out is to request the police to track the phone using IMEI number in your behalf.
Can I track my phone if someone changed the sim card?
If the thief or the person with your phone changes the SIM card, you should still be able to track the device down since the phone still has your Apple ID or Google account details. The key here is for the phone to get connected to the internet, even for a minute or so, since that’s enough for Find my iPhone or Android Device Manager to retrieve the current location.
Carrier Specific Mobile Phone Tracking
Some carriers offer free as well as paid plans to keep track of mobile phones online, especially for parents who are apprehensive about kids and other family members. Most of these have just free trials, so consider them only if the above free phone tracking solutions didn’t work for some reason.
1. AT&T FamilyMap Phone tracker plan
AT&T’s FamilyMap helps you locate a family member from your wireless phone or PC and don’t necessarily need GPS to keep a track. It’s really easy & accurate to track phones and can even locate a lost or stolen phone, assuming the phone is turned on. It’s free to try for a month & subscription based from then on.
2. T-Mobile FamilyWhere
With T-Mobile FamilyWhere solution, you can find your family members using their mobile phone’s location. If you’re using an Android phone, it lets you send your location to any mobile phone on any network for free. A more comprehensive solution doesn’t come free, but pretty useful.
3. Sprint Family Locator
Sprint Family Locator is something kids gonna hate for sure. Not only it lets parents track the mobile phones of their kids, but it also lets them lock the phone with a single mouse click! Free to try for the first 15 days, and then $5 per month.
4. Verizon Family Locator
Much like Sprint, Verizon too has a family locator service which lets users track the phones of their family members right from their PC. Sadly, there isn’t any free trial. Consider paying only if the other free solutions described above didn’t work.
Over to you:
How did you like this post? Do you know any other FREE Mobile phone tracking software/services? Let us know. We would love to include them in this post with due credits.