tracking map

What is IoT asset tracking?

If your organization deals in physical assets such as vehicles, product shipments, or rented machinery, you need a way to keep track of their whereabouts. In the past, paperwork reported on the sending and receiving ends of the asset’s journey, and sufficed to document the transfer. But today’s technology allows organizations to track their assets using cellular IoT sensors or RFID tags, giving them a clear picture of where each asset is at any given moment. 

That’s important because when you can monitor and optimize a delivery or industrial process, you’ll reap tangible time and cost savings. Asset tracking allows you to reduce the size of your inventory by optimizing usage of assets you already have — and it helps you improve workflows and processes, making them more precise and efficient.

Recommended reading: 10 best IoT asset tracking systems

Common types of IoT-enabled asset tracking 

IoT asset tracking is on the rise, with a recent report estimating that by 2027, 267 million RFID/asset trackers will be in use around the world. Let’s take a look at some of the most common types of asset tracking systems.

LPWAN

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. Their popularity is growing, with a recent ABI Research study showing that 82 percent of OEMs in the asset tracking space have adopted or are releasing products using cellular LPWAN. The tags are able to operate without much infrastructure (NB-IoT tags connect directly to the cellular network, rather than needing a gateway). For continuous connectivity and real-time tracking, though, these technologies are not ideal as they are designed for periodic check-ins and cannot support tower hand-offs.

Popular LPWAN trackers

Jorjin Asset Tracker

Jorjin’s ruggedly designed asset tracker operates on the Sigfox network and is compatible with non-powered assets because it relies on battery power — with a battery life of up to five years.

Alliot Technologies LoRaWAN Asset Trackers

Alliot’s line of asset trackers rely on LoRaWAN connectivity, delivering a transmission range of up to 15 km with low power usage and simple installation and deployment. 

AT&T Fleet Complete  

AT&T Fleet Complete sensors depend on LTE-M connectivity, a LPWAN 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. 

Pros of this type of asset tracking

—Low cost

—Signal reaches across a wide geographic area

—Long battery life

Cons of this type of asset tracking

—Not all LPWAN networks are available everywhere in the world

—Designed for periodic check-ins rather than constant connectivity

2G/3G/4G/LTE

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.

Popular 2G/3G/4G/LTE trackers

Omnitracs

Targeted to vehicle fleet tracking, Omnitracs offers a full suite of services including fleet telematics, driver and vehicle performance monitoring, and trailer tracking. 

Logistimatics Asset-422

A 4G GPS tracker with a battery that lasts up to three years, the Asset-422 from Logistimatics has a rugged, waterproof enclosure and is trackable throughout the US and anywhere there is 4G LTE-M or 2G cellular coverage globally.

Easytrax MT03C-2C Asset GPS Tracker

The MT03C is a long standby GPS tracker with a rechargeable battery, built-in G-sensor that detects motion and static, and wide network coverage that supports 4G, 3G, and 2G.

Pros of this type of asset tracking

—Network service is widely available around the world

—Can provide continuous connectivity for assets that need uninterrupted monitoring

Cons of this type of asset tracking

—Often more expensive than other types of sensors

—Can consume more power, which is problematic if using battery power and attached to a non-powered asset

Bluetooth

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.

Popular Bluetooth trackers

Digital Matter Guppy Tag

The Guppy Bluetooth® Tag is lightweight, ultra-rugged, and offers up to five years of battery life with 2 AAA batteries.

BeaconTrax Trax10175-Rugged Industrial Beacon

Robust and durable, the Trax10175-Rugged Industrial Beacon relies on BLE connectivity and contains a temperature sensor, accelerometer, and hall effect sensor for asset tracking.

BeWhere BTB04

The BTBo4 from BeWhere is tiny (57mm x 43 mm x 17 mm) and weatherproof, providing temperature, light, and accelerometer information as well as cloud-based geographical mapping, making it ideal as an asset tracker.

Pros of this type of asset tracking

—Inexpensive

—Good for short-range applications

—Minimal energy use, which means long-lasting battery life

Cons of this type of asset tracking

Not ideal for long-range use cases because BLE isn’t widely available across geographic areas

Wi-Fi

Because Wi-Fi is generally only available in indoor spaces and devices may have difficulty handing off between networks, asset trackers that depend on Wi-Fi connectivity cannot provide continuous updates for assets that are on the move. However, Wi-Fi is an affordable solution for asset tracking within a contained area, such as a warehouse or a seaport. Some asset trackers use Wi-Fi positioning (also known as Wi-Fi sniffing) to calculate their geographic position. To do this, the device scans for nearby Wi-Fi access points and notes their signal intensity, using that  information to triangulate its physical location.

Popular Wi-Fi trackers

Yabby Edge Cellular

The Yabby Edge Cellular asset tracker from Digital Matter uses Wi-Fi AP MAC Address scanning and cell tower location for indoor and outdoor asset management. It also detects impact, movement, tilt, and rotation.

Trakkit GPS

The Trakkit GPS depends on Wi-Fi for connectivity. If it leaves the home network range, it will log GPS location data and report that when it comes back in range.

TracLogik Wi-Fi Asset Tracking

TracLogik provides end-to-end Wi-Fi asset tracking solutions to manage indoor asset tracking in use cases such as healthcare facilities, university campuses, multi-story buildings, and warehouses.

Pros of this type of asset tracking

—Can leverage existing infrastructure

—No monthly data fees

Cons of this type of asset tracking

—Limited range

—Possible security vulnerabilities (if using public Wi-Fi networks)

Barcodes

While an older type of asset tracking, barcodes are still commonly used in many businesses to track assets and inventory. Barcode tags are applied to assets or products and must be scanned at intervals along the route to track progress. Asset tracking software helps you manage the data gathered from the scanners.

Popular Barcode tracking software

AssetPanda

AssetPanda offers barcode labels and an asset management platform that’s customizable and flexible, supports role-based access control, and allows access and barcode scanning through a mobile app.

TrackAbout

The TrackAbout software system allows you to carry out barcode scanning from a smartphone or fixed scanning device, and the tracking application lets you keep track of maintenance, regulatory compliance, and operating procedures as well as location.

AssetCloud Asset Tracking Software

AssetCloud’s solution provides all the hardware and software needed to implement a barcode asset tracking system, with automated check in/check out and customizable reporting functions.

Pros of this type of asset tracking

—Low-cost and flexible

—Doesn’t require cellular or Wi-Fi connectivity

Cons of this type of asset tracking

—Only collects location data when asset is scanned

Radio-frequency identification (RFID)

Like barcode scanning, RFID asset tracking 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. 

Popular RFID Trackers

HID® RFID Tags

With a wide variety of tracking tags and transponders in its lineup, HID Global helps you find just the right RFID tags for your application.


WiseTrack® RFID Asset Tracking

WiseTrack has everything you need to set up an RFID asset tracking system, from tags to readers, antennae, and software.

SpotSee ShockWatch RFID tags

Field armable and tamperproof, ShockWatch RFID tags notify you when they detect impact beyond a predefined level.

Pros of this type of asset tracking

—Low-cost and flexible

—Doesn’t require cellular or Wi-Fi connectivity

—Scans automatically rather than requiring a human to do the task

Cons of this type of asset tracking

Only collects location data when asset is scanned

Industries that benefit from wireless asset tracking

Industrial and commercial segments benefit the most from asset tracking. They have the most value in transit, so they’re willing to pay for solutions that preserve that value, while consumers are less likely to implement cellular solutions. This will likely change over time as cellular costs continue to fall. Another common term used in the asset tracking space — especially in the industrial/commercial space — is fleet management. This implies that there are a large number of devices under the control of a central entity. 

Recommended reading: 9 Ways IoT is transforming the fleet management industry

Let’s take a look at some of the common industries that benefit most from wireless asset tracking.

Supply chain and cargo tracking 

When you're shipping high value goods from one place to another, you want to know where they are. Having regular updates not only tells you that the goods are still moving, but also when they will arrive, enabling more efficient logistics around those goods when they arrive (for example, you can have workers at the dock ready to unload). This category covers a broad range of use cases, including trackers on trucks, trains, ships, and sometimes even shipping containers themselves. Getting a full picture of shipping and logistics can ensure reliability and streamline coordination.

Performance and regulatory tracking for trucking fleets 

In December 2017, truck fleets were required to implement Electronic Logging Devices (ELD). This device tracks trucks and their drivers to ensure they are getting proper rest time while on the road to improve safety and reduce sleep related accidents. This is not the only requirement for trucks. Fleets also need to worry about the International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA) and Driver Vehicle Inspection Reports (DVIR), both of which are normally tracked by ELD. All of these requirements are also encapsulated by the term “fleet monitoring.”

Mileage logger when personal vehicles are used for work

Vehicles are their own sub-group of applications within the asset tracking space, but mileage logging is a more specific example of that. Using personal vehicles for work purposes requires better tracking to prevent abuse. A tracker will show how many miles you have driven that are reimbursable or possible to write off on tax forms. Some insurance companies also use vehicle tracking, offering lower premiums in exchange for understanding exactly how much the vehicle is being used.

Sharing economy and asset tracking

Renting a device from a peer-to-peer service or app requires utilization metrics and access management. These tasks extend a bit more than just “asset tracking,” but the concept still hinges on understanding “the dot on the map.” Cellular tracking actually enables entirely new business models, instead of only mitigating the loss of assets. A great example is bike sharing moving from stationary docks to “dockless” sharing. The asset tracking happens in real time (for example, “bike #32851 is located at the corner of State and Lake”), the condition is assessed (“The bike is locked and is communicating with the network”) and then access is granted to a user interacting with the app or central service (“bike #32851 is unlocked for user #44669"). We see this happening for other mobile items such as cars, scooters, and even properties. Once the control mechanism of sharing is a virtual entity like an app, sharing economy applications can work at a more granular level.

High-value tracking for construction industry and military 

Construction and military equipment are high in value and the owners want to ensure their assets are secure. A tracker attached to a backhoe may also track the utilization of that backhoe (for example, “the backhoe operated from 0600 to 1630 on April 2”), but the important thing is understanding that in the off-hours, the backhoe was neither running nor leaving the construction site.

Healthcare devices 

Healthcare systems own many types of equipment, from wheelchairs to wearable health monitors, that they need to keep track of. IoT asset tracking can be a simple way to keep records of inventory and locate devices that have gone missing. The added visibility can help a hospital maximize its investments and cut costs

Recommended reading: Wearable healthcare technology: 12 incredible IoT applications

Retail 

In the retail space, asset tracking often takes the form of inventory management — for example, smart shelves that detect how many items remain and automatically notify managers when restocking is needed. Barcodes and RFID tags are also common in retail settings, both brick-and-mortar stores and e-commerce warehouses. The ability to keep exact records of inventory helps companies control costs, keep items in stock, and predict deliveries with greater accuracy.

Manufacturing

In industrial settings like smart factories, asset tracking systems allow companies to track their supply chains, enabling better coordination and efficiency across production locations. They can also track shipments of finished products to distributors or end customers, fostering better communication and saving both time and costs.

Hologram helps businesses connect cellular asset trackers

If you’re designing or deploying a cellular asset tracking device, choose the IoT SIM card that’s secure, future-proof, and equipped with eUICC capabilities. Hologram's SIMs can connect to cell networks around the world, providing seamless global coverage without the headache of carrier negotiations.

Get online in under a week

Start conquering the entire globe with a simple SIM swap. We’re here every step of the way.