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WHAT DO WE MEAN BY ASSET TRACKING?

Keeping track of critical assets is a necessity for almost all kinds of business. The Internet of Things has created new ways to wirelessly track assets, which is commonly referred to simply as ‘Asset Tracking’.

Using Asset Tracking, businesses can get real-time updates on the location, condition, and usage of their assets, allowing them to achieve a level of efficiency and productivity that was never thought possible a few years ago. But with the number of options available, selecting the right technology for the job can be daunting.

If you’re looking to implement Asset Tracking in your business, be sure to carefully choose the right IoT connectivity, as this will heavily determine your ROI.

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MOST POPULAR TECHNOLOGIES FOR ASSET TRACKING

At the most basic level are technologies that require an operator to be close to the devices. Initially bar codes were used, which were eventually superseded by RFID and later NFC. The latter is particularly useful, because it can interact with most smartphones and eliminates the need for a battery in the device that is to be tracked. Another common option recently has been to use Bluetooth Beacons.

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The main advantages of those basic technologies is interoperability, which is something to consider in logistics environments with multiple providers. Cheap hardware exists for all of those and there are no licenses or regulatory restrictions to consider.

Another method for indoor positioning that we see used a fair bit is Wi-Fi triangulation, which is particularly useful for positioning smart phones. This however has several disadvantages related to power consumption and cost and so tends to only make sense if the Wi-Fi network is also to be used to transfer large enough amounts of data.

Another method for indoor positioning that we see used a fair bit is Wi-Fi triangulation, which is particularly useful for positioning smart phones. This however has several disadvantages related to power consumption and cost and so tends to only make sense if the Wi-Fi network is also to be used to transfer large enough amounts of data.

An often better alternative is to deploy a wireless mesh network that is made up of many low powered, low cost devices. At a fraction of the cost we can have a much greater density of detection compared to Wi-Fi routers. Wirepas is one example of such a mesh network that offers extremely high fault tolerance and give the option of deploying an infrastructure that can run many years entirely on batteries, dramatically reducing retrofit costs.

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Finally more advanced solutions exist using Ultra-Wideband (UWB) and Angle of Arrival (AoA) technology. These can offer extremely high accuracy down to the centimeter, but come at a higher cost. However this could potentially change with Apple adding UWB support to some of their devices and AoA being added to the 5.1 Bluetooth specification.

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In the meantime outdoor positioning is dominated by GNSS / GPS, where the is calculated by triangulating the distance to satellites. The Wi-Fi positioning system is often used to augment GPS data, by looking up found Wi-Fi hotspots in a database of known hotspots and then similarly proceeding to triangulate. Assuming sufficient power is available for frequent scans this works very well outside, but works notoriously poorly indoors. In any case a second technology is needed to transmit GPS coordinates over the internet.

Again historically, cellular connectivity was the way to go, first with 2G, then 3G, then 4G and now 5G. But cellular is also power hungry and not very cost effective for IoT devices that don’t send much data. If we are talking about robots managing your warehouse, a private 5G network might be a good solution but if we are talking about geolocating trolleys, there exists a more relevant new breed of standards under the LPWAN (for Low power wide area network) banner, with each technology within that category having their own differences. 

From LoRaWan (mainly limited to a set area where you deploy your own private network), Sigfox (a global public network but mainly deployed in urban areas) to NB-IoT (part of the 4G standard, widely deployed by cellular companies but more power hungry & expensive than the first 2) to LTE-M (a sub version of 5G, well deployed nationwide but even more power hungry & expensive than the first 2). Those last two make sense if you need to send more data that just a GPS location, such as photo, video or audio.

Yet another option has emerged with LEO (low earth orbit) satellite, where pricing is becoming more and more affordable. This makes most sense for remote or isolated areas and container ships, where terrestrial coverage is scarce or nonexistent.

At the end of day, there are multiple options depending on your use cases and all of them have their own pros and cons.

Hybrid Asset Tracking Solutions

If one technology doesn’t fit the bill, you can consider building a hybrid combination of IoT connectivities to cover all different aspects of your needs.

For example:

Indoor + Outdoor = RFID/NFC/UWB/BLE + Cellular/LPWAN (+ BLE/NFC/QR code for provisioning)

Remote/overseas + Cities = Satellite + Cellular/LPWAN (+ BLE/NFC/QR code for provisioning)

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As the market for assets tracking is getting more mature and prices start to enable a strong ROI, customers are starting to connect and track more and more assets. Then a new issue might pop up: scalability.

If you want to connect very large numbers of low cost assets, you need a solution which is scalable, multi-protocols but at the same time offers a low cost per device, so you might consider some options such as LPWAN + WPS for outdoor geolocation and Wirepas for indoor geolocation.

Use Cases

1- Indoor/Outdoor geolocation: Beer kegs tracking (you can see the whole case study here for a better idea, make sure to scroll down up to the end: ). They first started with QR code & RFID, then added a sensor that geolocates with WIFI sniffing (makes sense as beer kegs are usually close to pubs, so mainly in cities where there is a lot of wifi SSID to triangulate geolocation and less power-consuming & cheaper than GPS so they can achieve 7 years battery life) and Sigfox LPWAN for sending data (again makes sense as Sigfox coverage is very strong in all cities around ANZ and cheap modules & connectivity) so at the end, they can achieve a solid ROI. Which would not have been possible with GPS & cellular.

2- Indoor high-accuracy positioning and RTLS: We could mention the Redlore Locus asset tracking solution: or The device uses a combination of Wirepas Mesh (for indoor geolocating), NFC (smartphone ‘tap’), Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) for provisioning. see info on the device at . Such solutions make sense when you need to track expensive and small goods in large warehouses.

3- Remote tracking: a combination of GPS and LEO (satellite) for tracking cattle in remote Australia. To reduce battery consumption the tag has a small solar panel. See the solution at . However, the solution is still expensive and only makes sense in a few scenarios (avoiding using a helicopter to chase your cows, getting information on matting time and reducing high theft) see stories at

If you need help or require recommendations based on your specific use case, simply book a time with us to review your processes, or to develop and implement the right asset tracking solution to achieve a better ROI.

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