IoT Industry Transformation Series: What the Fleet Management Industry Tells us About Choosing a Cellular Technology

Posted by on May 7, 2015, 1:59:43 PM Olivier Coutand  
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Fotolia_39981941_XSHere is the second post in a blog series focusing on innovations across various markets leveraging the Internet of Things. You can also view the previous post on the healthcare industry. Cellular technology has always been the technology of choice for telematics, machine-to-machine, and now IoT solutions to allow two-way communications between remote devices and assets. And at first glance the only challenge by this technology seems to be the selection of a wireless carrier, which often appears to be solely driven by pricing considerations (who’s giving me the lowest price).

However, a closer look at the continuous technology developments and changes in the wireless industry reveals a more contrasted perspective.

  • The 2G GSM (GPRS and Edge) sunset by AT&T will significantly reduce the footprint of 2G across the country, thus requiring a migration to 3G GSM (HSPA) or to 4G (LTE) by 2017 for the solutions currently relying on 2G GSM.
  • Sunset of 2G and 3G CDMA was announced for as early as 2021
  • The deployment of LTE networks, as the next generation of both CDMA and GSM, will not be completed in a few years. At the moment, it provides coverage limited to larger metropolitan areas.
  • Multi or cross-technology devices can be used in solutions today that need to fall back to 2G or 3G when the 4G network is not available. However, this requires management in the devices and the network, making these solutions more complicated and costly to operate.

For any solution of a decent scale that’s about to be launched, selecting the adequate connectivity technology does not only require to consider what connectivity is needed today, but also – and may be most importantly – what will be needed in the next 5 to 10 years.

Take the fleet management industry, for example, which provides a good illustration.

Various fleet management solutions exist that are dedicated to broadly two different types of fleets. How these fleets differ is important to understanding the cellular technology to select for solutions to be deployed today.

Regional, short-haul fleets typically cover vehicles in charge of local deliveries or of short-range operations such as field technicians or taxi cabs. They comprise a relatively small number (tens or hundreds) of trucks and vehicles per company and operate in metropolitan areas. Most of them currently use 2G CDMA (1xRTT) or 2G GSM (GPRS) since the coverage in these areas is excellent. Because of the planned 2G sunsets, many solutions launched today are already considering moving to 3G/ HSPA or even 4G/ LTE, as coverage in most metropolitan areas is already good enough. However, the still expensive price of radio modules prevents some solutions to take the plunge and adopt 3G or 4G connectivity.

National, long haul fleets, are made of cargo vehicles and trailers moving in more than one area and potentially cross country or even internationally. Many of them were among the first companies to use tracking and management solutions and have therefore opted for 2G CDMA (1xRTT), the technology which at the time these solutions became common place offered the best coverage nationwide. Since 2G CDMA will be operational longer and since they require coverage on highways and rural areas, these fleets are waiting for the 4G/ LTE coverage range to improve and for the price of radio modules to go down before switching to 4G.

Clearly in the IoT space, there is no one-size-fits-all, even when it comes to cellular technology. It is very important to state the geographical areas where the devices will require connectivity, as this could help motivate the rapid adoption or the delay in switching to a different cellular technology.

For more information about fleet management and the connectivity technology selection, check out our webinar on the Future of Cellular Connectivity for Fleet by Syed Z. Hosain, Aeris CTO.