Ed Chao, CEO of Polte, explains how cloud-based cellular location technology can mitigate operation issues in the supply chain
The first quarter of a new year is traditionally a time to reflect on what didn’t work so well in the 12 months gone, and to plan and take action to remedy this over the months ahead. In terms of what didn’t go so well, there was one story that lingered in the media for much of last year. It impacted businesses across a huge range of sectors and along the entire production/distribution/retail journey. It affected consumers, was debated by governments, and seems set to continue causing concern throughout 2022. Yes, we’re talking about the headline-catching widespread supply chain disruption.
Last year, we saw delays in ports globally, manufacturing slowing, and backlogs of orders as well as logjams of vehicles, ships and containers. The causes were many. COVID, for instance, resulted in workforce absenteeism, lockdowns and travel restrictions. The US-China trade war escalated and receded unpredictably, having a knock-on effect on markets across the world. Shifts in employment trends and greater restrictions on cross-border movement of people (and therefore skills) worsened the crisis. Experts cited in one recent report estimated that the supply chain issues experienced in 2021 could last for at least another two years.
If there was ever a time to plan and take action to remedy issues of the past, it is now. COVID, trade disputes and restrictions on movement are not going away any time soon. As such, we need to adapt supply chains to ensure they are flexible and resilient, and to enable enterprises to have full visibility of operations and assets. Supply chains must form an integral – and fully integrated – part of wider, global IoT. As we move through this year and beyond, we will enter an increasingly hyper-connected world powered by 5G. This is where the importance of selecting the right positioning technology for truly “everywhere” visibility, especially for critical IoT, comes into play.
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Critical location intelligence for critical IoT
Location technology can support the broad range of critical IoT use cases that are being developed for almost every sector of the economy. This includes Industry 4.0 applications like robotic-reliant smart factories, and huge, semi-automated utilities plants and mining and agricultural sites. The number and variety of use cases that come under the umbrella of critical IoT is far broader than this though, even including augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) that presents workers the ability to digitally visualise a factory floor. However, what all of these applications share is the reliance on the efficiency of supply chains to operate and drive profit. Enterprises must know where parts are for manufacturing, and how and where assets are functioning once in operation. Thus, secure, accurate, global location technology is a must.
The concept of asset tracking tech is not new. Various approaches have been used in the past – and are currently in use – in an attempt to improve, streamline and add flexibility to supply chains. These approaches utilise technologies such as those under the umbrella of Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), Cell-ID, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, though none are adequate for managing critical IoT applications and ensuring supply chain issues are addressed and resolved.
The most common means of asset tracking involves GNSS technologies like GPS, BeiDou (which is used in China), Galileo (in Europe), and QZSS (in Japan). While GNSS approaches provide good coverage outdoors, these technologies are a drain on battery life and signal penetration is extremely low, mitigating operation in built-up areas and limiting accuracy indoors.
Then there’s Wi-Fi. This technology is another approach for asset positioning and monitoring. It works primarily indoors, and like Bluetooth, only where limited range access points/beacons are available. In other words, does it function? Yes. Does it function effectively? Not so much in terms of providing everywhere visibility. High power consumption, lack of availability everywhere, and low security, mean Wi-Fi is mostly deployed as a complementary location technology alongside other wide area network (WAN) technology.
So what’s the solution for highly accurate, highly secure, real-time asset tracking, across both indoor and outdoor, public and private networks? Cloud Location over Cellular (C-LoC) technology, or cloud-based cellular location: both a solution to this critical IoT challenge, and a great way to implement a New Year’s resolution to better fortify the global supply chain.
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Cloud-based cellular location to unlock critical IoT value
Cloud-based cellular location leveraging 5G, in combination with seamless roaming integrated into a WAN, provides highly accurate end-to-end visibility, starting with sub-metre accuracy on the factory floor with private networks and extending to outdoor locations whenever and wherever an asset is transported, from the beginning to end of a supply chain.
Cloud-based cellular location technologies are already in use today, leveraging ubiquitous 4G/5G networks for massive IoT asset tracking applications. Their adoption is expected to increase significantly and broaden to more and more critical IoT use cases as well. According to ABI Research, overall penetration of the cloud-based cellular location installed base will reach 42% by 2026. In this period, it’s estimated that there’ll be a four-fold increase in penetration driven largely by devices on Cat-1, Cat-M, and NB-IoT networks. Asset tracking will be the main driver of growth on these networks, as cloud-based cellular location becomes more important for driving down costs.
Cloud-based cellular location can enable enterprises to unlock opportunities for critical IoT, and will help revolutionise supply chain management. In addition to real-time tracking and monitoring, trigger-based actions allow immediate responses to mitigate issues before they cause supply chain disruption.
In the past, enterprises may have seen location tech as simply a “nice-to-have”. The growth of 5G IoT and wide-ranging impacts of supply chain disruption in 2021 have proven that this is a major fallacy. Pinpoint-accurate, cloud-based cellular location technology is fundamental to unlocking the value of critical IoT for adding flexibility and resiliency to supply chains. It’s therefore also a fundamental strategy that should feature high on the enterprise agenda throughout 2022 and beyond.