According to Gartner, this year more than half of major new business processes and systems will incorporate some element of the IoT, and the biggest industry adopting internet-connected physical devices will be the supply chain. Global corporations recognize the transformational role of IoT and the need for a solution that is focused on identifying, locating, and tracking assets.
As asset tracking is one of the most promising applications for the IoT, a variety of industries, such as transportation, logistics, healthcare and food services are investing in smarter technologies to replace legacy systems with automated asset management solutions.
However, not all technologies are created equal. IoT solutions can be expensive or impractical to implement. One main difficulty is linking remote sensors wirelessly to the internet across a variety of sites, both indoors and outdoors and potentially in different countries, in a seamless manner that follows all steps of the operation.
The ideal wireless linking technology should be inexpensive yet secure, work over long distances, and have a sustainable battery life. Short-range technologies like Zigbee, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi do not meet these requirements. While Cellular technology offers a longer range, battery life is very short. In addition, carriers’ cellular data plans are too expensive and chipsets cost too much for massive item-level deployments.
LoRa devices and the LoRaWAN protocol offer a highly versatile and lower power solution that enables a wide portfolio of applications for indoor and outdoor asset management. Implementing a LoRa-based platform provides a geolocation solution that can significantly reduce the cost and complexity of locating and monitoring IoT assets.
Indoor vs. Outdoor Asset Tracking
There are two different types of indoor asset tracking: outdoor-to-indoor tracking or indoor-only.
Outdoor-to-indoor tracking monitors a product or asset in transit from one location to another, with continued tracking until the items arrive a warehouse or other indoor location. What’s unique about a LoRa-based solution is that users can combine GPS and Wi-Fi scanning so the platforms can seamlessly switch from GPS scanning outdoors to Wi-Fi scanning indoors via one device without requiring human interaction.
Indoor-only use cases like monitoring boxes or pallets in a warehouse, retail assets with a store environment, or medical equipment in hospitals are also well suited for LoRa-based solutions – especially when you consider that a single battery can last years.
LoRa-based platforms enable solution providers to leverage the unique localization capabilities of LoRa as well as GNSS and Wi-Fi scanning from a single-chip solution. This allows customers to choose the best localization tool for the application task they are addressing. By removing the need for incremental GNSS and Wi-Fi components, bill of material (BOM) costs can be reduced while design and procurement complexity is minimized.
For both indoor-only and outdoor-to-indoor tracking, Wi-Fi passive scanning can be used to monitor any physical asset. A LoRa-based solution determines an asset’s location by using a global database of private and public Wi-Fi access points that have been previously mapped.
Replacing the need to build different trackers for indoor or outdoor use cases that combine multiple location methods with a single chipset reduces complexity and costs associated with applications. Having a solution that can transition between outdoor and indoor activity automatically is a key differentiator in the IoT market.
Pedro Pachuca is Director of IoT Wireless in Semtech’s Wireless and Sensing Products Group.