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  • Rob Garry

Today’s vs. Yesteryear’s Fleet and Asset Tracking Technology

Before the 1970s, only government-built systems were used to track government fleets and ships. Starting in the 1970s, commercial fleets have used vehicle location. In the ′70s and ′80s some used Loran-C. This was a radio system developed by the US government in the 1950s that could also be used for commercial purposes. Due to the cost of hardware it was primarily utilized by the government for their own use. Then companies built their own proprietary communication networks that included tracking technology. Some companies utilized satellites and some built terrestrial systems utilizing their own wireless networks using triangulation technology that cost millions of dollars to build.

The LoJack System was launched in the mid ‘80s to aid law enforcement to track stolen vehicles. It consisted of four components: 1. The LoJack Unit, (a high-frequency transmitter and receiver package about the size of a pack of cigarettes) randomly hidden in a car; it sold for a one-time $495.00 charge to the consumer including installation. 2. The Police Tracking Computer for police patrol cars and other tracking locations; 3. The Sector Activation System (SAS) used by law enforcement agencies to maintain vehicle codes; and 4. The Registration System, a proprietary method of assigning digital codes for transmission and reception by LoJack Units in a way that allowed unique activation codes to be permanently correlated with the unique vehicle identification number the manufacturer had assigned to the car in which the LoJack Unit was located. LoJack sold millions of devices. Once the consumer called in, the police cars could zero in on the stolen vehicle to recover it before it hit the chop shop.

In August of 1988, Qualcomm launched OmniTRACS, a satellite-based data communications system for the transportation industry that enabled long haul fleet operators to effectively track and monitor their vehicles in the field.

In 1991, International Teletrac Systems was launched primarily to compete with LoJack. Soon after launching, Teletrac began to focus more on local fleet management instead of stolen vehicle recovery. Teletrac began building regional networks utilizing radio frequencies, which afforded smaller local service companies the capability to use fleet tracking. A company would also need to invest in a base computer with installed software that would usually cost $2,500.00 to $5,000.00, pay $600.00 for units installed in each vehicle and about $25.00 per month per vehicle to track their vehicles every 15 minutes.

Then along came GPS, an acronym for Global Positioning System, which was first developed in the ′70s and originally designed for the Department of Defense. Becoming fully operational for commercial use in the middle ′90s, GPS now uses 31 satellites that orbit the earth and assist in tracking vehicles, and other assets, come rain or shine, and simultaneously we might add (Library of Congress, 2011).

In the late ′90s the cellular carriers began utilizing Cellular Digital Packet Data (CDPD) to be able to use their networks to transmit the GPS data back to the companies’ offices. This was a low-cost data service the cellular carriers developed that made the barriers to entry go away for many entrepreneurs. CDPD technology opened up the market leading to increased choices on hardware and platforms to take advantage of. Companies paid wholesale prices for data and began bundling it with their own tracking applications. Employing the capabilities of the internet allowed a company to create cloud-based solutions so that expensive base hardware and software was no longer needed. One could literally begin a fleet tracking business out of their garage, and some did! One of the largest and most successful companies of this time was @Road, founded in 1996. They went public in 2000 and raised 63 million dollars, proving this industry had tremendous opportunity. @Road did a great job of selling simple low-cost GPS. This led to the technology further trickling down to small-business applications and consumers. Things further opened up when a cellular connection, application and smartphone could be used to track the employee. Most companies still prefer to use an installed device in the vehicle itself to actually track their assets at all times.

Today, most commercial applications use GPS to calculate the location and a combination of 3G and 4G cellular data technologies to transmit the data. The simplest units plug into the OBD-II (on-board diagnostics) port, which has been mandatory on every passenger vehicle sold in the U.S. since 1996. This port is usually easy to access on most vehicles, and is used by mechanics to read trouble codes sent by the electronic control unit. When the GPS device is plugged in, the GPS tracking unit draws power from the car's electrical system and sends its information via cellular carrier networks to the users via the web .The tracking software and GPS tracks vehicle location, real-time movement and driver performance and sends out mechanical and service alerts.

Widespread Usage

Today, GPS solutions allow small businesses to track their vehicles and assets like big businesses do at the same cost. When used judiciously, drivers usually get used to their movements being tracked. With GPS tracking solutions, the benefits are many. From lowering fuel and maintenance costs to eliminating theft and waste, along with improving safety and reducing labor costs, this user-friendly technology can quickly increase productivity and revenue for many businesses, organizations, and their customers. GPS also allows companies to track valuable assets such as containers, port-a-potties, refrigerated temperatures, heavy equipment and more.

From earth to space, and back to earth, GPS tracking is able to keep a flow of information to the operations that make a business so effective. Created for the military by some of the world’s best masterminds any business can have, in their corner, one of the best inventions ever created by man. As the devices decrease in size and increase in accuracy, it's a safe bet that even more businesses will begin to utilize these powerful tools. In addition to fleet tracking, businesses have been combining their service offerings with mobile tablets, bar-coding scanners and other devices to create even more complete and well rounded solutions.

Personal Applications

GPS technology has become more commonly accepted for personal use. Parents with inexperienced teen drivers rely on these devices to monitor their child's use of the family car. Tracking technologies can help ensure the safety of elderly family members or loved ones with special needs. You will never have to worry about loved ones wandering from their homes.

Future: Smaller Size, Longer Life

As GPS devices become more and more affordable, the future is likely to hold a large increase in personal tracking use. GPS is also now being used to track pets. Dogs often have them installed under their skin. As of today, they can’t be implanted under a person’s skin. Today the size of the GPS trackers battery limits how small the device can be. As battery technology continues to evolve, GPS trackers will continue to get smaller and last longer.

Needless to say, Fleet and Asset tracking has come a long way since the 1970s. Today, it falls under the Internet of Things (IoT) category with others such as wireless internet backup, smart homes and smart cities, healthcare monitoring and supply chain management. The applications for this technology are indeed endless, and those businesses who have the know-how to bundle and simplify the solution for the distribution channel and end users to understand and implement will flourish!

Basic Fleet Tracking Options


Upgrade your ride to business class with our picks for GPS tracking apps that plug into your vehicle's on-board diagnostics port

Plug N Play (OBDII plug in) $199 to $249 per device $22 to $26 per month for data plan, application

PROS: Simple, intuitive operation; customizable alerts available

CONS: Easy to unplug and more expensive than 3-wire, cannot use contacts for alerts such as temperature change or truck loading doors being raised

3-Wire installed devices

  • $149.00-$189.00 per device

  • $22.00 - $26.00 per month for data plan, application

PROS: Less expensive device; installation is relatively quick; allows you to have alerts when specific contacts are triggered like a temperature being lowered or a truck loading door being raised

CONS: Needs to be professionally installed

Bundled solution

  • Includes the hardware, data plan and fleet tracking application

  • $26.00 - $32.00 per month

PROS: No capital expense

CONS: Pay more for equipment after 3 years

Rob Garry - For more than 30 years, Rob has been running his own businesses and working with and for the largest communications companies in the world, and is currently co-founder and CEO of SensLynx, an IoT solutions provider for Fleet Tracking, Wireless Internet backup, Out-of-Band Management, and other IoT-based applications.

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