GPS Tracker Comparison
There are a wide variety of GPS trackers on the market today. Almost anything can be tracked but not everything can be tracked well. Understanding the basics of GPS tracking technology will help you make a quicker and better decision for your asset tracking needs. Being familiar with the industry terminology and technology will actually lead to an increased ROI. If you are looking for a fleet safety tool but realize you can also benefit from productivity data, you can find a GPS tracker that can help in both areas.
Let’s get started.
Vehicle v. Asset Tracking
Vehicle tracking provides a consistent and generally protected environment inside the vehicle. Devices don’t need to be IP67 rated like asset trackers which are more expensive. Vehicle GPS trackers typically use cellular communication due to a desire for more data, at a lower cost, because satellite coverage is not needed. Vehicle tracking services typically update every few seconds to no more than 2 minutes depending on the monthly cost. More data means a higher monthly cost.
Asset tracking can be done with satellite tracking systems or cellular GPS trackers depending on where the assets operate. Frac tanks used in the oil and gas industry generally use satellite trackers. Skid steers in urban construction almost always use cellular GPS trackers. Customers generally choose to receive more data at a lower cost; even if they cannot track an asset live 100% of the time. All GPS trackers have dead spots where they cannot communicate for some reason.
Backup batteries (BBs) are often requested and needed for unpowered assets. GPS devices require power from the asset or from a battery to operate. Assets, such as trailers, often sit without power for extended periods until connected to a tractor where power is restored. In these cases, a backup battery is needed. In vehicles, GPS devices receive constant power from the car battery.
In vehicle tracking, backup batteries are less important. BBs don’t enable the device to function as normal. BBs put the device in a reduced performance mode so the battery lasts longer. Customers often think BB will enable them to track the driver after they remove the GPS tracker as if it were still installed. BBs range from a CR2525 watch battery to lithium ion batteries. Vehicle trackers typically use small BBs which generally show you where the employee tossed the GPS unit out the window but not much more.
We sell all of the above options and have seen every scenario over the last 16+ years.
Tracking, Telematics, Diagnostics
Vehicle location and speed data. Where an asset went, where it stopped and how long it was there.
Data provided by the vehicles computer network and sensors (excluding engine data). This includes RPMs, accelerometer data for jack rabbit starts, harsh breaking, and reckless driving. It is the data used in accidents. Read more
Data transmitted by the engine through the OBD or J-Bus port generally consisting of fault codes and status data. There is a wide range of data available and GPS companies claim to offer these if they provide one data point out of several hundred. Ask good questions.
Installation & Tampering
There are essentially two types of installation used today; 3-wire and plug and play. The 3-wire installation is considered more reliable but it isn’t if the plug-and-play installation is done right with a Y-harness. View more on installations. 3-wire installations can be done on small to mid-size fleet trucks by most anyone that can install a car stereo. On bigger trucks and equipment it is best to use a trained installer or mechanic. Learning to install and troubleshoot the technology can save your operation a lot of time and money.
Tampering has been an issue for over 16 years. Tampering occurs with plug-and-plan (P&P) and 3-wire devices about equally. OBD devices that are installed without a Y-harness (moves GPS into the dash) are the most likely to be tampered with. Companies that sell devices requiring 3-wire installs will tell you OBD devices are always an issue. We sell both and the tamper rate is about the same. Tampering stops when you put your foot down. Read more about introducing GPS trackers to employees.
Several equipment considerations such as backup batteries and communication networks are discussed in other areas of this blog. However, there are other things to consider in the physical design and construction of the GPS device itself.
First, all GPS trackers are not made equal. Significantly more engineering goes into some devices like the Geotab GO device. Other GPS units are almost “dumb” in comparison and everything else is in between. We sell them all so we are communicating facts as we know them, not opinions.
GPS devices vary in construction quality. Some have thinner plastics and others more robust internal components. A good GPS chip set means faster acquisition time from a cold start and more accurate coordinates in tough environmental conditions. Some devices do well in heat where others shut down in the Arizona sun. Ask for the technical specification sheet and the warranty on the device.
If you think about GPS trackers like a cell phone you will be able to easily understand the general conditions. In short, most have a limited warranty period if you are not on a perpetual lease or rental. Second, if you break it you buy it. If it breaks, you keep paying for the service until fixed. If it fails due to manufacturing the device is replaced and you are responsible for the service cost to swap the unit.
Backup Battery Size and Type
Lithium ion batteries are the only real choice for a battery due to durability and long-life. The size of the battery in milliamps determines how long the battery will last based on the draw from the GPS unit when asleep and when it wakes to transmit without constant power. Since batteries don’t last forever be sure the device will use off the shelf batteries to keep your cost down. Having to special order custom batteries drives up the operational cost. If you can replace the batteries you will save big money on service work.
ELD & Dispatching
Electronic Logging Device (ELD for FMSCA compliance)
ELD is a big deal which is coming at certain industries fast and furious. Selecting the right GPS tracker means you will also get ELD options, if and when needed. Those fleets not yet AOBRD compliant by December 17 2019 will be in violation and taken out of service.
Read the full 126-page ruling here.
Dispatching is the process of sending stop or route data to a driver. Most ELD devices will offer some type of dispatching as an additional service. If you need both getting a GPS tracker that offers both will be significantly more convenient than two systems, which aren’t integrated, from two vendors.
Cellular v. Satellite
There are really two types of communication technology used for GPS trackers, satellite, and cellular. Don’t confuse GPS satellite with communication satellites. GPS satellites broadcast a radio wave like an FM radio station and you cannot “talk” back to it. Cellular and satellite communication generally talks 2-ways but satellites can be 1-way.
Most GPS trackers use cellular networks to move GPS and other data from the vehicle, to a cell tower, to a server, to the Internet. Because of the low cost, most fleet operators use cellular. Understanding the carrier used and the coverage footprint will enable you to know when you will receive “live” tracking data. Cellular is also more reliable because it can communicate with the towers more easily due to the radio frequency used.
Satellite communication is more of a specialty technology used when assets are operating in very remote areas where cellular service is not an option. Communication satellite signals do not penetrate objects such as trees or buildings and costs significantly more than cellular. Satellite systems also manage battery power differently which leads to less detailed track data.
Cellular networks generally use GSM or CDMA technology. Verizon and Sprint use CDMA and are generally being phased out and replaced by 4G or LTE service which also SIM cards. GSM is the international standard and is easily identified by a SIM card. SIM cards offer some flexibility but you cannot take a GPS device from one vendor and use it on another vendors website.
Log, Update & Refresh Rates
Understanding the relationship is important to sort out the information from various sales reps. Unfortunately, most sales reps in call centers don’t understand these concepts so you will have to prompt them to explain each in detail so you know what you are getting.
The frequency which the GPS tracker logs the position of the asset. This varies from a few seconds to once per day.
The rate at which the log data collected is transmitted to a cellular or satellite communication tower.
The rate at which the website refreshes and displays newly received log data.
Integration refers to the sharing or movement of data between applications, databases or services in order to increase the overall use and value of data already paid for. If you have a need to utilize the GPS tracker data in other areas you want to be sure the GPS vendor offers APIs. APIs are an industry standard method of moving data via the Internet in a secure manner. Read more