Not long ago, local grocery stores were lined with empty shelves. Toilet paper and hand sanitizer shortages gripped headlines from California to New York. In the throes of the COVID-19 era, demand for basic goods had so abruptly shifted that transportation and logistics companies were forced to react at breakneck speed to the unprecedented surge, all while maintaining worker safety.
The issue is, managers can only truly manage what they see – and need to know exactly where vehicles and equipment are in order to properly use them. Real-time visibility of critical assets, which can be anything from fleet equipment to humans, is essential for operating a supply chain at peak efficiency. The pandemic is exposing a need for access to insights for moving assets across all sectors, especially when multi-tiered distribution models are relied upon. Fast, real-time decisions are only delivered when a fleet manager knows the real-time location of all tools in their arsenal. Fleet managers need an end-to-end asset tracking solution that works anywhere, indoors or outdoors, with no-nonsense setup to scale.
GPS Sucks More than Just Power
Historically, fleet managers have leaned on GPS to track higher value assets, though being able to yield a location report has been far from guaranteed. Due to GPS’ inherent limitations, enterprises were only able to pinpoint assets when they had a clear line of sight to the sky. Yet many times, equipment and goods were inside a container or warehouse, rendering GPS useless. With steep price tags and quickly drained battery life, GPS trackers are difficult to maintain and to frequently replace on the field. If a fleet manager wanted to layer on indoor coverage, they’d need to accumulate additional costs and infrastructure for the incorporation of Wi-Fi or Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). Amalgamating these location solutions with other existing software platforms to offer valuable data becomes a burden on crucial resources: finances, time, and manpower.
Thankfully, other changes in the market have been brewing long before COVID-19 entered the picture. With the onslaught of digital transformation and Industry 4.0, enterprises are turning to newer technologies such as Mobile Internet of Things (IoT), cellular-based location techniques like Cell-ID, or more accurate alternatives, such as Cloud Location over Cellular (C-LoC) to help solve the growing challenge of providing end to end supply chain visibility. Innovative players are realizing they can leverage existing, ubiquitous 4G and 5G cellular networks for connecting asset trackers through Mobile IoT. New Mobile IoT standards such as LTE-M and NB-IoT are changing the game on cost, battery life, and extended coverage and have been deployed by carriers around the world. Mobile IoT is the foundation for 5G Massive IoT, which is poised to usher in a new era of hyper-connectivity.
Fleet managers are now able to connect millions of low bandwidth asset trackers to tap into their equipment’s location, whether it’s inside a building or out on the open road. Small, agile devices make for flexible systems, so sensors can be easily affixed to any object needed to be tracked. Using cell towers that already reach 97% of the global population (ITU), there’s no need for new infrastructure. Deployment costs are slashed, and scalability is streamlined. The battery life of a tracker extends from days to years.
Mobile IoT allows actionable intelligence to present itself in the form of various sensor data, including temperature, humidity, shock or other conditions, with the backbone being location. Used in conjunction with asset tracking platforms, configurable alerts and customizable geofences can help make sense of the information in order to act quickly. The point: real-time data enabled by Mobile IoT and cellular-based location provide the best context for fleet managers to rectify problematic situations before they result in business disruption.
Mobile IoT and Fleet Management
Fleet management is evolving to include not only gaining visibility into a vehicle’s location, but even further – into the items on or associated with the vehicle, whether they are scooters or pallets of soda. This encompasses tracking the trailer, the vehicle cab, in addition to the individual items inside the trailer (i.e. hand trucks).
Moreover, fleet tracking doesn’t always mean a vehicle in motion. A fleet of vans stored on an expansive property can rack up hours in labor costs for personnel who are tasked with finding a needle in a haystack. This knowledge is important for automobile manufacturers, car dealers and leasing companies.
Using Mobile IoT and cellular-based location, systems can also be supplemented with cost-effective trackers in areas where many signals aren’t available, such as inside warehouses or covered parking garages.
Fifth Wheel Dolly Mini Case Study
When fifth wheel dollies are no longer needed, drivers for one LTL company often drop them off in a manufacturing/warehouse district, or hook them up to another, second trailer. These dollies are then left susceptible to theft or damage by other drivers. Though it’s difficult for fleet managers to know where an individual dolly is at any given time, they have not seen the ROI in using GPS trackers for this type of equipment. If drivers don’t pay attention to where they drop dollies, or they’re damaged and can’t be pulled, this is typically only discovered later through walk-throughs and manual checks around the truck yard.
Using a Mobile IoT location solution with cellular-based location, the LTL company can now leverage existing mobile infrastructure and lightweight devices for asset tracking, no matter what unplanned lot or district a dolly is left in. Less power consumption and heightened indoor/outdoor coverage leads to simpler scalability and increased efficiency in preventing theft, as well as recovering dollies or other goods after loss.
Mobile IoT is driving down the cost and eliminating the barriers to entry of asset tracking for smaller, individual assets. With millions of new IoT devices coming online rapidly, this technology is proving to have a real impact on fleet managers’ bottom lines. While Mobile IoT can be used in combination with various location solutions, choosing the right method can make or break implementation success.
About Ed Chao, CEO, Polte
As CEO of Polte, Chao leads the team to position Polte as the premier location technology provider for Mobile IoT. Chao brings 26 years of leadership experience, serving as an executive for companies such as MetroPCS, T-Mobile, Lucent Technologies and with the U.S. Digital Service at the White House.
Chao holds a Master of Business Administration from Columbia University, a Master of Science in electrical engineering from Georgia Tech, and a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from Rutgers University.