IoT asset tracking is undoubtedly one of the most efficient and effective tools for keeping track of your inventory. You can use it to track items as they move through a warehouse, a fleet of vehicles out on the roads, and entire shipments as they move through your supply chain.
Before you can implement IoT asset tracking, though, you need to choose the best system (or combination of systems) for keeping your devices connected.
Below are the leading asset tracking systems for 2021. We’ll go through the specifics of each system and which methods are best for which use cases.
The core IoT asset tracking systems for 2021
There are several types of IoT asset tracking solutions available on the market. Many of them can be combined into hybrid systems for enhanced tracking capabilities and telematics. Here are the currently available options:
Satellite and GPS
Tracking assets with in-orbit satellites is a very effective and inexpensive way to get positioning data from the global navigation systems (GNSS). Satellites triangulate the location of an asset by calculating the time it takes for it to send and receive a signal to a minimum of four satellites in range. The information is then sent to the data cloud and presented to the asset management system.
Satellite tracking is often used for global logistics and in remote locations, where other options are either unavailable or impractical, such as marine cargo for example. The system encompasses all global navigation satellites - GPS, GLONASS, Galileo and BeiDou, but the USA's GPS is by far the most widespread and popular tracking solution up to date.
GPS tracking in particular is a well-known easy to implement and cheap solution, but when coupled with cellular tracking it can provide true IoT capabilities. On its own satellite tracking can offer only location data, but hybrid cellular + satellite solutions enable advanced tracking and monitoring.
Use cases: fleet management, logistics, telemetry.
Best for: remote outdoor locations, accurate location data.
Cellular (4G, 5G, LTE, etc.)
For many businesses, cellular is the IoT asset tracking system of choice. It uses traditional cellular networks (such as 3G, 4G, and 5G moving forward) to provide accurate location data over a nearly unlimited range.
Cellular also has the benefit of being able to transmit large amounts of data quickly. This makes it versatile, as it can provide asset tracking, OTA updates and logs, and more. Cellular IoT is widely available, too, making it easy to integrate into devices.
The challenge of cellular is two-fold. First, it is power-intensive, so keeping batteries charged requires optimisation know-how. And second, keeping assets connected to cellular networks around the world requires network engineering experience. With the right provider, though, you can overcome these challenges.
With these factors in mind, cellular is ideal for global logistics processes. It’s the easiest and most effective way to keep track of your devices as they move from one region to the next without ever losing positional data.
Use cases: telemetry, fleet management, logistics.
Best for: scalability, in-depth data insights.
LPWAN - NB-IoT and LTE-M
The Low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) is a way to track assets within a wide area at low data and power consumption. LPWAN was created for the IoT industry as a specialised type of cellular connectivity that works at a lower cost. It is especially popular for creating private networks and connecting devices at remote or otherwise inaccessible locations. The solution can run on inexpensive transmitters for up to 20 years and is easy to deploy, with good scalability and low hardware requirements.
LPWA technology, and especially Narrowband and CAT-M1, is suited for asset tracking, because of its low consumption requirements. The solution is often used at construction sites, docks or other facilities to track cargo, vehicles, people or small items, like OEM parts or tools. Although it was initially created for the business, LPWAN is now often used in pet tracking, smart healthcare devices and other forms of urban monitoring.
On the downside, LPWAN is not an accurate tracking solution.
LPWA is also often coupled with satellite tracking for hybrid wide-area solutions, making it a very popular and secure choice.
Use cases: device tracking, vehicle tracking, people tracking.
Best for: low power and data consumption, the cheaper cellular option.
Bluetooth is a connectivity channel we are all familiar with. And it’s this familiarity that serves as one of the key benefits of Bluetooth as an IoT asset tracking system.
Bluetooth has the benefit of being ubiquitous, affordable, and easy to deploy. Bluetooth is at the core of countless software and hardware. This ubiquity makes it easy to set up a Bluetooth tracking system without reinventing the wheel.
Additionally, Bluetooth is very accurate. It can detect the location of a tag within a meter of accuracy, and it can do so while consuming very little power.
Bluetooth’s major drawback is its very short range. The short-range means it’s best suited to indoor applications. It can also only maintain around twenty connections simultaneously, even when using the advanced BLE standard, which means you need a mesh network for high-volume usage.
With these factors in mind, it’s safe to say that Bluetooth works similarly to RFID and is a better alternative when positional data is required. You can use Bluetooth in conjunction with a GPS asset tracking solution to provide accurate outdoor and indoor data.
Use cases: warehouses, entertainment venues, sports.
Best for: precision tracking, short-range operations.
Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags are considered a passive form of IoT asset tracking as they only update their location when they reach checkpoints. These tags send out a short-range signal that a scanner can pick up. You can set scanners to detect RFID tags from as little as a few centimetres to as much as 800 meters. Whenever a scanner detects an RFID tag, it gives a positive read.
RFID tracking has some limitations. It doesn’t provide positional data and only sends out positive (detected by the scanner) or negative reads.
There are, technically, exceptions to this. Systems exist that use multiple RFID sensors in tandem to show the location of an RFID tag in 3D space. However, the complexity and accuracy of these systems make them less than ideal than alternatives.
Instead, RFID tags are best-suited to operations that metal or liquid won’t impede, can benefit from a variety of tags, and aren’t able to support battery-powered tracking. Clothing, for instance, is a common candidate for RFID asset tracking.
Use cases: unique item tracking.
Best for: low cost, small tags with no batteries, no radio interference.
At JT IoT we specialise in cellular tracking
If you’re weighing your IoT asset tracking options, reach out to the team at JT IoT. Our experts can walk you through our unique cellular offering and how you can use it to track your and your customer assets.
Interested to learn more about how cellular tracking is applied in the field? Read one of our asset tracking case studies to find out how our customers use the JT IoT solution.