Industry View: Asset Tracking Comes of Age with LoRa-Based WiFi Geolocation

19th May 2020

Logistics BusinessIndustry View: Asset Tracking Comes of Age with LoRa-Based WiFi Geolocation

By Pedro Pachuca, Director of IoT Wireless in Semtech’s Wireless and Sensing Products Group

As application of the Internet of Things (IoT) in the logistics sector continues to develop, so the inevitable clamour to create asset tracking solutions with the highest possible levels of accuracy and security has increased.

However, this aim has some challenges including:
• These include the difficulty in integrating different LPWAN, GPS and Wi-Fi systems from multiple suppliers
• How to prevent batteries becoming depleted within very short timeframes
• How to guarantee security without inflating running costs
• How to avoid having to invest in separate systems to manage indoor and outdoor asset tracking

Long range (LoRa) wireless radio frequency technology has been used in the management of supply chains and logistics operations for many years, but now there has been a step change that enables the technology to address all of the above problems in an easy-to-use package. The result is a single system that can deliver on asset location and traceability (both indoor and outdoor), asset loss, theft prevention and recovery, and geofencing (using GPS and Wi-Fi technology to create virtual boundaries around a location).

The new low-power LoRa Edge™ platform from Semtech is a geolocation solution designed to offer a versatile way of delivering a range of applications for indoor and outdoor asset management. It does this by combining a multi-constellation GNSS scanner, a Wi-Fi passive scanner and a low power LoRa transceiver. Power consumption is significantly reduced to around 10 per cent of that required by existing solutions, as LoRa Edge uses LoRa Cloud geolocation and device management services so that power-intensive location computations are carried out in the cloud.

To tackle the security issue, the security keys for LoRa Edge use a highly secure hardware module, which means that logistics managers no longer need to carry out costly secure processes or buy in expensive security-based hardware. Also, since LoRa Edge is a cost-effective solution it enables rapid expansion of asset tracking and location services that take maximum advantage of IoT systems.

Costs and inconvenience associated with locating and monitoring assets are minimised by the ability of LoRa Edge’s devices to operate for up to three years on a single battery or charge. The advanced design of LoRa Edge chipsets means that batteries on asset trackers no longer need to be changed every three to six months as is the case when using conventional Wi-Fi technology. LoRa Edge devices also offer such a high level of flexibility that it is straightforward to switch to GPS scanning should the asset leave a building or a geofenced zone.

For example, a LoRa Edge transceiver makes use of GPS satellite tracking for outdoor applications and Wi-Fi passive scanning for tracking indoor assets.

Indoor tracking
There are two elements to indoor asset tracking – indoor only and outdoor-to-indoor. For indoor-only, it’s easy to track such assets as medical equipment in hospitals, power tools in a construction environment, high-value retail items in a store, or components, boxes and pallets in a warehouse. Outdoor-to-indoor tracking involves monitoring the movement of assets from one location to another then continuing to track them when they arrive at their destination. By combining GPS scanning and Wi-Fi scanning, the LoRa Edge platform enables automatic and seamless switching from outdoor to indoor monitoring on a continual basis without any need for human intervention.

Typically, Wi-Fi accuracy can be from 5m to 20m and in large warehouses there is often the need to set up extra Wi-Fi points either inside the building or find a way of connecting to nearby private or public Wi-Fi access points. At the same time, Wi-Fi points also need to make their unique identifier MAC address known to carry out the geolocation of tracking devices. Location accuracy is determined by the number of MAC addresses that a server obtains and if these are limited then accuracy of data will suffer.

To tackle this problem, LoRa Edge determines an asset’s location by using a global database of private and public Wi-Fi access points that have already been mapped. Visible MAC addresses are captured and sent to a cloud-based Wi-Fi look-up service and when this data is analysed it is possible to capture the precise location of an asset.

Total cost of ownership
Finally, LoRa Edge enables customers to control their total cost of ownership (TCO) because they only pay when they need an asset to be located. Businesses that need to know the location of assets several times per day pay Semtech via subscription but those who only need such information once a day, once a month or even once a year pay as required.

IoT solutions revolution for asset management
LoRa Edge has been designed to do nothing less than revolutionise the development of IoT-based solutions for asset management applications, simplifying the process in a way that satisfies customers’ demands for high levels of security while driving costs down. With a range of products planned for release throughout 2020 leading to an increased use of LoRa-based solutions in the IoT ecosystem, logistics managers will be able to take full advantage of the technology and manage their assets in a way that has never been possible before.