Every organization that deals in physical assets—vehicles, product shipments, or rented machinery—needs a way to keep track of their whereabouts. In the past, paperwork reported on the sending and receiving ends of the asset’s journey sufficed to document the transfer. Barcodes emerged in the 1970s, providing a way to scan and identify items and, among other things, track assets. Today, IoT asset tracking is emerging as an affordable and dynamic way to keep closer tabs on movable resources. A recent report estimated that by 2027, 267 million RFID/asset trackers will be in use around the world.
What is IoT asset tracking?
Asset tracking (as opposed to inventory tracking) focuses on a company’s reusable resources, such as machinery, vehicles, reusable containers, and other tools—any asset on the move that the company doesn’t want to get lost or stolen.
IoT asset tracking involves affixing sensors to those resources to track their movements. The sensors contain GPS chips, which work by sending coordinates (determined via contact with a GPS satellite) to GPS servers via some type of wireless network technology. Real-time asset tracking requires near-constant connectivity, usually cellular. The sensors send out location information, which is received and collected in an asset tracking management system or other software. This gives organization leaders a clear picture of where their assets are at any given moment.
Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is one form of asset tracking that doesn’t require a constant connection. An RFID tag includes a radio receiver and transmitter, which are triggered when the tag comes within range of an electromagnetic pulse from an RFID reader. While RFID asset tracking works well for many use cases, it’s dependent on external hardware (RFID reader devices) to prompt the tags to report their location. It’s helpful for tracking a container during shipment, for example—but if the container is lost or stolen and never comes close to another RFID reader device, there’s no way to track it down.
As cellular IoT devices and connectivity become more affordable and efficient, many organizations are opting for real-time asset tracking systems.
What are some of the communication technologies IoT asset trackers use?
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is a good solution for short-range situations, where the asset in motion will remain within range of devices that can receive its signals. BLE tags are inexpensive and offer up to 10 years of battery life, making them very attractive if you have large numbers of assets to track within a tight grid of infrastructure.
Low-power, wide-area network options such as narrowband IoT (NB-IoT), LTE-M, Sigfox, and LoRa provide long battery life and dependable long-range connectivity for asset trackers. The tags cost more than BLE, but are able to operate without as much infrastructure (NB-IoT tags connect directly to the cellular network, rather than needing a gateway). If you need continuous connectivity for real-time tracking, though, these technologies are not ideal as they are designed for periodic check-ins and cannot support tower hand-offs.
Other cellular technologies are viable options for asset tracking, but they tend to be more expensive and use more power, so they are a better choice for assets that require connectivity for other reasons (such as a connected machine that collects and sends data to the cloud) and/or those that can provide an external power source.
Recommended reading: Guide to IoT asset tracking
What are the 10 best IoT asset trackers?
As asset-tracking technology emerged, so have dozens (if not hundreds) of asset tracking products, software, and services. We’ve put together a list of the ten best IoT asset trackers currently on the market for a variety of use cases.
Specializing in industrial IoT (IIoT), Samsara has several popular asset tracking devices allowing customers to track in real time or through periodic check-ins. The Samsara AG24 is designed to track powered assets in real time, while the more affordable AG46 unpowered asset tracker provides a low-power option with customizable GPS check-ins.
Targeted to vehicle fleet tracking, Omnitracs offers a full suite of services including fleet telematics, driver and vehicle performance monitoring, and trailer tracking. The company’s expertise in fleet management means their tracking services provide lots of helpful information beyond asset location—including predictive maintenance, diagnostic information, and fuel data even for remote assets.
Hilti ON!Track Asset Management
Hilti’s ON!Track system includes software, hardware, and support for construction companies that need to keep track of tools and equipment on jobsites. Some of the smart tags use BLE, while others use barcodes. The cloud-based software management system helps contractors manage tools, find missing equipment, and keep track of preventative maintenance needs.
AT&T Fleet Complete
The AT&T Fleet Complete service depends on LTE-M connectivity, a low-power wide-area network technology. The AT1 sensor is one of the smallest on the market (4” by 2”) and captures GPS information along with other data such as humidity and temperature readings, light exposure and impact status. The solution utilizes solar power for recharging and is suited for monitoring assets in many industries, including medical supplies, construction materials, and machinery.
A specialist in fleet tracking, Azuga also provides sensors to track physical assets such as small equipment and shipping containers. The connected sensors use GPS and cellular technology with rechargeable batteries that last six months per charge. Azuga also offers geofencing, a feature that lets you draw an invisible line around your assets and receive an alert whenever a tagged item leaves the designated area.
Designed for use in the shipping industry, Keeptruckin’s asset trackers operate continuously either through a power connection to the trailer or charging with an integrated solar panel. The sensors use cellular connectivity to report GPS coordinates and other statistics to the server, where users can access the data through cloud-based software. Keeptruckin supports geofencing, and can send an alert if a vehicle appears outside its stated boundaries.
EROAD offers comprehensive fleet management, including integrated asset tracking. Their tracker uses 4G connectivity and feeds all collected data to a single dashboard, allowing users to manage shipping fleets while keeping track of regulatory compliance. The EROAD tracker’s batteries last up to six months, and a 12- or 24-volt power source can also be used to run the unit.
Advanced Tracking Technologies Inc. (ATTI) lets users track both fixed and mobile assets, enabling real-time GPS monitoring for a diverse set of objects, from trailers and heavy equipment to boats and motor vehicles. ATTI’s tracking devices are small and easy to set up, and they’re powered either by 4 AAA batteries or a 5V external power line. Battery life is typically around 1.5 years, and the trackers can store one year of historical data.
Asset Monitoring Solutions (AMS)
A company specializing in fleet management solutions, AMS includes GPS and asset tracking for powered and non-powered assets. They have several types of trackers and use multi-network roaming SIM cards to provide dependable cellular connectivity, even internationally. Most of AMS’s trackers depend on power from a running vehicle, but they have a few that run on lithium and/or rechargeable batteries.
The Particle Tracking System enables real-time asset location monitoring along with additional data capture, such as temperature and acceleration sensors. The system’s open firmware enables users to add additional IoT sensors and manage everything together on the Particle IoT Platform. The trackers use Cat-M cellular technology in North America and LTE Cat-1 with 3G/2G fallback in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.
As IoT sensors and systems become more widespread and affordable, more companies will adopt some type of asset tracking systems. The ability to login to a cloud-based portal and get a bird’s-eye view of your trucking fleet, machinery, or construction assets can go a long way toward streamlining your business processes—resulting in greater efficiencies and cost savings.