How to Locate a Lost Smartphone

Tuesday, May 23, 2017 by Massimo Mazza

Who has forgotten their smartphone somewhere and been a victim of theft? Unfortunately, these situations can happen. Forgetfulness or theft can deprive us of our beloved phone: not only can it be financially damaging, but also a personal impact due to the loss of our data, like contacts, videos and photos.

However, thanks to geolocation technology, there may still be hope of finding it again!

How to use mobile geo-location

There are different ways of locating your smartphone. When a phone is on, at least the GPS, Wi-Fi or mobile connection is available. Geolocation services use:

  • coordinates detected by the GPS system
  • geographical location of the access points in Wi-Fi connections
  • mobile phone networks

The position defined by the GPS system is the most accurate. Thanks to GPS satellites, the position of the phone is identifiable with a precision of a few meters (10-20 meters). However, the smartphone must be in an open field for the GPS antenna to be receptive. It is simple to understand that if the phone is in a location with an enclosure (i.e. a room), GPS capability is virtually nothing and consequently, the geolocation of the phone is not possible.

If the smartphone shows connectivity to a Wi-Fi network, geolocation takes place using the MAC address (the unique identifier that each hardware vendor attaches to the Ethernet or wireless network adapters) of the access point or the router that provides the connection. Mobile devices usually collect the nearby router and access point’s MAC addresses and transmit them to the databases used by geolocation services in order to geographically map their global deployment. To find the location of a phone connected to a Wi-Fi network, just find the MAC address of the access point and check the database to see its geographical address. Geolocation through Wi-Fi may not be very accurate if there is no determination of the location of the access point with that particular MAC address.

Finally, the use of the mobile network is based on the use of cellular ID data for the mobile transmitter, triangulating the information with the known location of other neighboring mobile transmitters.

How to find your smartphone?

Apple provides its iOS devices with the Find my iPhone app.  Configuration of the app must be on your device (iPhone or iPad) following the instructions. In case of loss or theft, you can access any browser at and thanks to your AppleID, you can use the web version of Find my iPhone to locate the device on the map. You can remotely make a sound, turn on lost mode or initialize your iPhone / iPad.

On Android devices, you should mark the "Locate this device" option and in addition "Allow lock and factory reset" and then enter the Android Device Manager at using the Gmail account used to activate the phone.  Like Apple, Google will also show the position of your mobile device in a map, offering you the ability to make a sound, lock or erase your smartphone remotely.

Apple and Google apps for iOS and Android do not exhaust all the possibilities. There are other apps in the Apple Store and Google Play Store that can help you to find your lost smartphone.

The most advanced features allow you to not only locate your phone, but to control it remotely.  For example, taking a picture and sending it via email (in hopes of recognizing the location of the phone or taking a picture of the thief), remotely view the call log of your smartphone or even the texts sent. This is possible even if your original SIM card has been replaced by another one (you will receive the phone number of the new SIM card remotely, too).