Narrowband IoT for valuable goods tracking

For logistics providers, transportation or railway companies it’s essential to know where their highly valuable goods like containers, trucks or wagons are. NarrowBand IoT (NB-IoT) can be the perfect solution for very low-cost track and trace use cases.

The latest figures by Markets and Markets forecast that trackers will grow with the highest rate on the global NB-IoT market. Tracking is one of the main use cases for example in the transportation and logistics industry. Fleet managers track their vehicles and trailers, logistics companies locate freight and containers, railway companies track wagons, construction firms protect excavators and forklifts against theft by geofencing. For tracking, the assets are equipped with a module that periodically retrieves its location via GPS and sends this information to the asset owner.

Wide area characteristics

To send the GPS location data to a tracking application, modules use mobile networks. One of the interesting things about NB-IoT as a Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) technology is that it operates with up to 164 decibels of total path due to the technology’s high receiver sensitivity, enabling NB-IoT modules to detect significantly weaker signals than traditional cellular-based technologies. A particular advantage would be a much better indoor penetration, even reaching underground levels.
To locate a container for example, only a small amount of data with simple information – the current location or status update – at wide intervals, maybe once an hour or a day, has to be transmitted. Present radio technologies like GSM are so to speak overqualified and thus too expensive for such use cases. NB-IoT is predestined to transmit small data packages due to its narrowband feature and devices being able to operate with reduced bandwidth.

Low power characteristics

Additionally NB-IoT supports a power saving mode making the device extremely energy-efficient. Not considering GPS, depending on the amount and the frequency of data to be transmitted, NB-IoT modules themselves can potentially work unattended with two standard AAA batteries for ten years and more when predominantly in power saving mode. That’s a remarkable benefit for fleet managers or logistics companies, considering the management of hundreds or thousands of trucks, pallets, or containers without having to replace the battery of the tracking module.

NB-IoT will be deployed on existing operator networks, therefore the radio access network can be rolled out easily, quickly and inexpensively with a simple software upgrade. Operating in licensed spectrum also means NB-IoT can rely on a broad industry support and LTE-like quality levels (in terms of availability, stability, reliability and security) are guaranteed. Furthermore, the downlink capacity allows administrators to supply a large number of devices quickly with firmware updates over the air. All these benefits make NB-IoT a promising solution for tracking use cases.

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