What is geolocation and how can it be used to keep track of your assets

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Depending on the business you are in, knowing the location and usage of your assets can be crucial. It will, for example, help you optimize asset usage and schedule maintenance at the right time. Geolocation is a technology helping businesses worldwide to manage their assets in the most efficient way.

What is geolocation

Geolocation refers to any type of technology that can identify a geographic location, from a sweeping swath of land to a needle in a haystack. By locating an associated device in real time, you can locate an important asset, being a container, a trailer, a pallet, etc. Often the device is a mobile phone or an internet-connected device (Internet of Things).

There are a couple of different technologies that can help define the actual geographic location of your assets. You can rely on either one geolocation technology to track your assets or combine multiple ones. In an industrial setting where you want to guarantee the longest possible battery life of your tracking device, it is recommendable to combine different geolocation technologies.

This blog post explains and compares four different geolocation technologies, being 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.

Different types of geolocation

GPS

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.

GPS tracking truck

A big plus of GPS is its’ accuracy. You can track your assets with GPS very accurately since it can locate something up to five meters precisely. Furthermore, it works everywhere outdoor and there is no specific infrastructure required. The downside is the fact 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 thus be used as an outdoor positioning technology, WiFi and Bluetooth can be used complementary for positioning indoors.

GPS in short

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  • Accurate outdoor positioning (up to five meters)
  • Works everywhere outdoors
  • No infrastructure required

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  • High energy use
  • Often interrupted by weather-related situations
  • Does not work indoors

Bluetooth Low Energy

Bluetooth is a wireless short-range communications technology standard. It’s mainly designed for communicating over short distances since the signals do not carry very far, the devices need to be within approximately ten meters.

Though 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. Thus, when you install BLE beacons on known locations, the beacon will broadcast their identifier to Bluetooth-enabled devices nearby.

Bluetooth icon

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 both outdoors and indoors.  BLE beacons provide both outdoor & indoor asset tracking. 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 battery life is guaranteed for many years. They require very low energy and can easily be integrated into your existing logistics infrastructure.

Furthermore, 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

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  • Accurate indoor/outdoor (depending on infrastructure)
  • Low energy use (1/15th of GPS)
  • Minimal wireless infrastructure required

  • Access to Bluetooth required

WiFi

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 up to a 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.

WiFi icon

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. Besides this, 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

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  • Accurate (depending on availability)
  • Low energy use (1/10th of GPS)

  • Might require paid service or known local infrastructure network

Network-based geolocation

Location can also be determined by using a service provider’s network infrastructure. The accuracy of network-based techniques can vary. This is both depending 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 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.

Network-based geolocation consumes low power

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

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  • Work everywhere indoors and outdoors
  • No additional energy consumption
  • No infrastructure required

  • Accuracy depends on the network

The real strength lies in combining geolocation technologies

As mentioned, 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 tracking. Balancing this energy use and correct usage of geolocation technologies is a key aspect of our asset tracking solution. This is achieved by combining intelligence on the device and intelligence on the platform, adapting over time.

At Sensolus, we thus look at every use case and the needs for that case to decide how much battery life is needed and how we can balance this with the right geolocation technologies and required data. In this way, we can guarantee that data is only gathered when it’s valuable for your business.

Are you interested in efficient and accurate asset tracking to improve your operations? Please request your demo here.