Operations involving GPS tracking devices are often deterred when the subject uses a GPS jammer to defeat the purpose. Geotab, a company that specializes in the telematics industry, has developed a system that combats such devices and condition their own GPS services to resist any intentional malfunctions.
Over the years, GPS jammers have been designed to block communication and allow vehicle and other subject to move “under the radar.” They can come in various names such as cell jammers, text stoppers, or signal blockers. The U.S. Federal Communication Commission has noted that the use and distribution of these devices are completely illegal.
A jammer generally functions by hiding the position of the device that is being tracked. It may work continuously or could be switched off so only a portion of the person’s whereabouts is out of their location history.
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What is a GPS jamming device?
Along with the rise of GPS devices in the market, jammers have been designed to “combat” its use. A GPS jammer is typically s small transmitter that can generate up to 1575.42 Mhz interference signal over a 5 to 10 meter radius.
In the United Kingdom, where GPS jammers are common, a user typically plugs a jammer into a cigarette lighter and places the unit close to a GPS tracker to disrupt its satellite signal. They seem to be commonly sold everywhere as well, even in world markets where it is illegal to order them.
What is a GPS System and how does a jammer affect it?
Before we get to jammers, it is best to start by defining how the global positioning system works.
A GPS starts with a tracker that utilizes the global navigation satellite system (GNSS) network. This specific network incorporates a range of satellites that use microwave signals that are later transmitted to a GPS device. Aside from location information, it is capable of emitting data reports on which vehicle speed, time, and direction are determined. Generally, this data is communicated all over the world over the cellular network.
GPS signals can be disrupted by satellite malfunction or solar flares. But a more intentional cause behind a signal disruption would be due to GPS jammers. It is capable of sending out a radio signal with the same frequency as the GPS device but works to specifically override the GPS satellite signals. As a result, the GPS device may not be able to determine its position anymore due to the jammer blocking the signals.
Penalties for People Who Use GPS Jammers
The United States and Canada both strictly prohibit jamming devices. In Canada, the Radio Communication Act prohibit the use, manufacturing, distribution, sale and possession of such devices around the country. Consumers who are seeking to import radio transmitting equipment to Canada should have it checked to see if it meets the legal standards of Industry Canada’s technical regulation before making any purchases or they could be facing some serious consequences. Jamming devices that are seized at the border are quickly detained, and the importer will be quickly identified and be liable to a fine or imprisonment.
In the U.S., any violation of the use and distribution of jamming devices may result to thousand dollar fines in monetary penalties, seizure of the illegal device and even imprisonment.
Do know that the jamming devices can also pose as a potential threat to several lives. A driver based in New Jersey was assigned at Newark Liberty International Airport when he used a jamming device to disable a GPS tracker installed on his truck. The signal actually interrupted air traffic control information. Luckily, an FCC investigator located the jammer and traced it down to the driver who was later fined a whopping $31,875.2
The situation could have ended tragically had the FCC investigator not uncovered the cause of the interference immediately. This case is just one of the many hazardous situations that come with the use of a GPS jammer.
How Geotab Detects and Eliminates GPS Jamming Threats
Companies like Geotab are coming up with devices that minimize the effects of jammers. For example, MyGeotab is designed to sense if there is a disruption with the GPS signal. When the GPS signal is not received, its Trip History map will detect if there is a missing location along the way.
As illustrated below, when the GPS jamming happens mid-trip, a straight line will be displayed from the point where the jamming starts to the area where it was seemingly switched off.
GeoTab has also designed more immediate jammer detection as well. The GPS module features GO6 and GO7 units that each have jamming detection functions, which automatically trigger so the device can report a debug log. Users can check the log details to view them, the report will state “GPSJammingDetected” in the log file.
There will always be a portion of people who want to escape authorized GPS use by attempting to defeat the tracking devices in every way possible. Generally speaking, thieves and even employees looking to operate under the radar will do that with jammers. So what you can do is be prepared for any disruptions before they actually happen.