Four geolocation technologies compared: How can they improve your operational efficiency?
Reading time: 5 minutes
Locating your assets can be an essential part of your business. There are a dozen practices ranging from maximizing asset usage, scheduling maintenance to tracking different assets like containers, trailers, pallets, etc. Geolocation is helping businesses worldwide to get the most out of their asset tracking and management.
This blog post explains and compares four different geolocation technologies: GPS, Bluetooth, WiFi, and network-based geolocation. We will compare their advantages and disadvantages and show that combining different geolocation technologies within your supply chain logistics can drastically improve operational efficiency. But first things first… What is geolocation exactly?
Geolocation refers to any type of technology that can identify a location, from a sweeping swathe of land to a needle in a haystack. By locating an associated device in real time, you can locate an important asset, such as a container, a trailer, a pallet, etc. Often the device is a mobile phone or an internet-connected device (Internet of Things). Let’s dive a little deeper into four different types of geolocation technologies and their pros and cons.
Zooming in on GPS, BLE, WiFi and network-based geolocation
Global Positioning System, GPS in short, is a satellite-based radio navigation system consisting of approximately thirty satellites orbiting the Earth. Originally it was developed for military navigation but nowadays anyone with a GPS device can receive radio signals that these satellites broadcast. This global satellite system provides geolocation and time information to a GPS receiver anywhere near or on the Earth if there are no obstacles and at least three GPS satellites available.
A big plus of GPS is its accuracy. It can locate something up to five meters precisely. Furthermore, it works everywhere outdoors and there is no specific infrastructure required. The downside is that this geolocation technology requires quite some power because it communicates with several satellites around the Earth. Other disadvantages are that long distance communication is often interrupted by weather-related situations and its inability to work indoors.
Where GPS can therefore be used as an outdoor positioning technology, WiFi and Bluetooth can be used side by side for positioning indoors.
GPS in short
- Accurate outdoor positioning (up to five meters)
- Works everywhere outdoors
- No infrastructure required
- High energy use
- Often interrupted by weather-related situations
- Does not work indoor
Bluetooth Low Energy
Bluetooth is a wireless short-range communications technology standard. It’s mainly designed for communicating over short distances. As the signals do not carry very far, the devices need to be within approximately ten meters of each other. Although Bluetooth has been around for two decades, its latest version, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is making big strides in geolocation and positioning. Most smartphones and devices today are equipped with Bluetooth capability. So when you install BLE beacons on known locations, the beacon will broadcast their identifier to Bluetooth-enabled devices nearby.
Advantageous to Bluetooth Low Energy and BLE beacons is the fact that there is no interaction required with existing IT infrastructure for communication. Depending on the infrastructure, this geolocation technology works accurately outdoors and indoors. The more BLE beacons you install indoors, the more accurate the positioning of your asset will be. The main argument to use BLE technology is the fact that the battery lifetime is guaranteed for many years. They require very low energy and can easily be integrated into your existing logistics infrastructure. A battery-powered beacon is much cheaper than installing wires in industrial zones, for which you might need to shut down processes and perform security checks. A disadvantage is that it’s a little less accurate than GPS.
Bluetooth Low Energy in short
- Accurate indoor / outdoor (depending on infrastructure)
- Low energy use (1/15th of GPS)
- Minimal wireless infrastructure required
- Access to Bluetooth required
WiFi positioning taps into wireless local area networks (WLANs), which are networks of devices that connect to a specific radio frequency, usually 2.4GHz or 5.0GHz. The device then transfers data over radio waves for a range of up to one hundred meters, which means WiFi can cover both indoor and outdoor sites. WiFi positioning also harnesses WiFi networks that you don’t own or can’t access. For instance, as a commercial trailer passes through an urban center, it will drive through hundreds or thousands of WiFi networks. Your WiFi device can track public information about those networks – like IP addresses and BSSIDs – to determine location.
Good to know is that WiFi has a low energy use and is accurate up to ten meters, depending on the availability of WiFi networks. Also, it requires no additional infrastructure. As mentioned above, your WiFi device can track information about networks in the area. Keep in mind that this might require paid service or you need to know the local infrastructure network.
WiFi in short
- Accurate (depending on availability)
- Low energy use (1/10th of GPS)
- Might require paid service or known local infrastructure network
Location can also be determined by using a service provider’s network infrastructure. The accuracy of network-based techniques can vary. This is both dependent on the concentration of base stations and the implementation of the most up-to-date timing methods. A technique used by different network providers is network triangulation. This means that you can determine the location of a point by forming triangles to it from known points. To use a service provider’s network infrastructure your tracking device will be equipped with a module of the service provider.
Of all the geolocation technologies discussed, network-based geolocation requires the least energy. The accuracy of this positioning technique depends on the network and the density of available base stations (usually higher in an urban environment compared to a rural environment) and can vary a lot.
Network-based geolocation in short
- Works everywhere indoors and outdoors
- No additional energy consumption
- No infrastructure required
- Accuracy depends on the network
The real strength lies in combining geolocation technologies
Each technology has its strengths and weaknesses. The real strength lies in knowing when to use which technology to ensure both minimal energy consumption and maximum data accuracy.
Each project evolves over time and so do the needs for asset localization. Balancing this energy use and correct usage of geolocation technologies is a key aspect of our solution. This is achieved by combining intelligence on the device and intelligence on the platform, adapting over time.
Are you interested in efficient and accurate asset tracking to improve your operations? Request your demo here.