Everything you need to know about building your own asset tracking solution.

So, you’re thinking about tracking your assets. And now you’re wondering if you should build your own solution, or start working with a specialised provider?

article · 5 min read

So, you’re thinking about tracking your assets. And now you’re wondering if you should build your own solution, or start working with a specialised provider? It’s a good question. In this blog we’ll go over what you need to know if you want to build your own asset tracking solution.

 

 

Step I: Figure out what devices you want to use.

 

If you want to build your own IoT network, devices are a big part of the decision. There are dozens of manufacturers out there who may make a device that gathers all the information that you want.

 

For small fleets though, devices can get expensive. Because you aren’t buying the devices at scale, it’s hard to get any sort of bulk discount. Plus, these devices themselves are expensive to make and require serious talent (we have a team of 11 engineers making our Easypulse devices), so that expense gets passed on to you in the price.

 

If you choose to build your own network, there are a few things you have to consider when it comes to sensors.

 

To start, most sensors only collect data, they don’t transmit it. So you have to think about how you’re going to connect the sensors to each other, or to a central data collection point called a gateway. In most cases this means you have to hire talented professionals to build out an entire IT infrastructure.

 

Once the infrastructure is built, you have to maintain it and keep it secure. Security is one of the most important factors to consider in IoT. The IT professionals that a company hires must not only be talented engineers. They also need to have a deep knowledge of cybersecurity to keep the system safe.

 

Internet-connected networks are vulnerable to hackers. Patched-together networks like the ones currently used on many remote worksites are especially vulnerable to hackers. A single out-of-date device can leave an entire system open to attack. Like a thermostat in a fish tank, which was how hackers infiltrated the entire system of an unnamed casino in 2017. If you have hundreds of fleet management devices all linked together through different means, there’s bound to be a weak link.

 

It’s obviously a huge problem if hackers get into your systems. And it’s happened before. In 2020, Garmin, the GPS technology company headquartered in the United States, paid hackers a multi-million-dollar ransom after days of being locked out of their systems.

 

 

Second, you have to figure out connectivity.

 

A sensor is great. But a sensor that actually connects to satellites or a cellular network so you can know what’s happening with your assets from far away? That’s even better. Connectivity is the thing that makes IoT special. When it comes to connectivity, you’ve got a few options:

 

  • Option one: Cellular networks

 

A more affordable way to monitor your assets is to use existing cellular networks. Cellular monitoring makes use of the existing cell networks that your phone runs on, and generally uses a GSM protocol. Some companies will offer you a special sensor that connects directly to the network. Other companies will simply sell you a sensor that has a spot for a SIM card.

 

The good news about cellular monitoring is that it’s easy to install. If your worksite is located near a cell tower that supports the right frequency that you need, you’ve got access to a great, affordable solution.

 

Cellular networks do have some flaws though, the biggest one being location dependence. Many remote worksites make the mistake of investing in cellular monitoring, but only discover that coverage is spotty, at best.

 

  • Option two: Traditional satellite monitoring

 

Satellite monitoring is a “dream” monitoring solution. It works anywhere in the world, is generally easy to install, and doesn’t involve complicated wired systems. Satellite systems aren’t affected by bad weather. And they are reliable.

 

But, for years, it’s been too expensive to get connected to a traditional satellite network, and they are power-hungry systems. Traditional satellite solutions generally have a short sensor-to-gateway range of 250 metres, if we’re being generous, which makes it impractical for moving assets. Plus, sending a lot of data to space isn’t cheap.

 

That’s where Low Power, Wide-Area Networks (LPWANs) come into play. These networks are designed to transmit small amounts of data across large distances without a lot of power. By keeping the data transfer small and infrequent, these types of networks can keep power usage low and extend the lifetime of batteries. And, LPWAN networks can keep costs relatively low.

 

LoRa is a popular type of LPWAN. It’s an open standard communications protocol that covers the physical layer. It was developed and is maintained by the LoRa Alliance, a non profit association that’s dedicated to the large scale deployment of LPWAN through LoRa.

 

  • Third, you need to build software

 

So you found a way to gather the data, then a way to connect that data to a network, now you need to figure out how to access that data in a useful way. The only way to do that is by building a software solution, or integrating your data into an existing software.

 

Here’s the thing. Data by itself isn’t useful. You need to organise the data in a way that makes sense if you want to understand what it’s telling you.

 

Some software is specifically designed to make it easy to interpret the data in a glance. The kind of system where you open up the tool and can instantly know what’s going on with all of your assets. Designing software that is this user friendly is difficult, but it’s worth it because the insights make your work a lot faster.