Geofencing: What It Is and How It Works

Use geofencing to set location alerts and more

Geofencing is the ability to create a virtual fence or imaginary boundary on a map. After you create the boundary, you can set alerts to notify you when a device moves into or out of the boundary.

What Is Geofencing?

Geofencing uses GPS (Global Positioning System), RFID (radio frequency identification), Wi-Fi, cellular data, or combinations of all four technologies to determine the location of a device being tracked.

Geofencing technologies and apps can do things like:

  • Notify you when your child leaves school.
  • Set areas your teen is allowed to drive in or designate areas where they are not allowed to go.
  • Combine with smart home systems to control lights, locks, and temperature in your home.

How Geofencing Works

Geofencing is used in advanced location-based services to determine when a device being tracked is within or has exited a geographic boundary. To perform this function, the geofencing app accesses the real-time location data sent by the tracked device. In most cases, the information is in the form of latitude and longitude coordinates derived from a GPS-enabled device.

The coordinate is compared against the boundary defined by the geofence and generates a trigger event for either being inside or outside the boundary. Or, the event can perform a function such as turning on the lights or cooling the designated geofenced zone.

Creating a geofence in Snapchat


Geofencing and Tracking Devices

In most cases, the geofencing tracking device is a smartphone, computer, or watch, but sometimes it's a device designed for a specific situation. Some examples include dog collars with built-in GPS trackers, RFID tags used to track inventory in a warehouse, and navigation systems built into cars, trucks, or other vehicles.

Geofencing Examples

Geofencing has a large number of uses, some quite surprising, and some fairly mundane, but all are examples of how this technology can be used.

Livestock Monitoring

One of the earliest uses of geofencing was in the livestock industry. A small percentage of cattle in a herd would be outfitted with GPS tracking devices. If the monitored cattle left an area defined by the geofence, the rancher received an alert that the herd had moved beyond the boundary created with the geofence.

Geofencing in livestock has expanded to include all kinds of farm animals, and it's also used to monitor their movements and patterns.

Teen Driver Monitoring

Teen driver monitoring systems allow you to set areas where your teen can and cannot drive. In addition, some of these systems allow for scheduling. For instance, you can let your child drive to the beach on weekends, but not during school days. Most of these systems are installed on the driver's smartphone, but a few can also use a car's built-in navigation system or its OBDII (On-Board Diagnostic) port.

Geofencing setup screen on mobile device

Smart Home Access

Geofencing technology can be combined with smart home systems to allow lights to turn on when you arrive home, locks to unlock or lock, or temperatures to ramp up or turn down.

One example of geofencing combined with smart home technology is HomeKit. HomeKit includes a Leaving Home and Arriving Home set of automation macros triggered by a geofence around your house. When you arrive home, lights may turn on, an exterior door could unlock, and the stereo may tune to your favorite station. When you physically leave, more automatic actions can take place, such as the garage door closing, doors locking, and lights dimming.

Trucking Services

Fleet managers use geofencing to create routes for drivers. If a truck moves outside of the route defined by the geofence, an alert is sent to the fleet manager or the driver to let them know they've strayed from the prescribed route.

Geofencing is used primarily as a security tool to safeguard a trucking fleet from theft or as an efficiency aid to keep the cost down by forcing preferred routes.

Business Marketing

Perhaps one of the earliest instances of geofencing was the creation of location-based mobile ads to work on smartphones with location services.

These types of apps may offer tips or information about items going on sale when the smartphone is near a store or service. Similar apps are used in the tourism industry, using geofencing to provide information about an exhibit or historical site nearby.

Find Your Pet

Similar to livestock monitoring, the pet location system uses a GPS-enabled collar to monitor your pet's location. When the pet moves beyond the virtual boundary, you're quickly alerted. Some pet systems allow for multiple geofences, each with a different alert. For example, you can be alerted when your dog is in your roses, or slightly worse, when your dog is in the neighbor's roses. The pet location systems also offer GPS tracking to help find your pet if lost.

Help With Productivity

Geofencing is used in various apps to assist you in productivity. For example, Geofencing can be used to let a productivity app know when you leave or enter an area. So, before you get out of the parking lot after work, you may receive a message reminding you to pick up some groceries on the way home. When you arrive home, you may be reminded that you need to take out the trash.

  • What is a geofencing thermostat?

    A geofencing thermostat uses the GPS capabilities of a smartphone to track a homeowner’s location and then adjusts the temperature settings depending on that location, either away or at home. Homeowners enter their desired temperature when they are at home, but when the homeowner is away, the thermostat sets the temperature a few degrees warmer or cooler (depending on the season) to reduce energy demand.

  • What is the benefit of a geofencing thermostat?

    The most significant benefit of a geofencing thermostat is that the thermostat knows when you are at home and when you are away and uses that information to fine-tune the temperature for your actual presence rather than a preset—schedule an excellent feature for people with irregular schedules.

  • Who makes geofencing thermostats?

    Several thermostats offer geofencing, such as Nest, Ecobee, and Emerson Sensi thermostats.

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