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Guidance: Shipping & Container GPS Tracker

How to use trackers for shipping and container tracking and monitoring

Why use GPS Tracking for Shipping & Containers?

Tracking your equipment and assets using GPS trackers can be useful for:

  • Theft prevention and recovery

  • Workflow assessment and optimization

  • For temperature controlled cargo, remotely monitor sensory information

  • Visibility over your cargo at all times

How to deploy GPS trackers for Shipments & Containers?

Place GPS trackers and various sensors on your shipments

Remotely view all your assets and equipments on a single screen

Get notified when something is moved to where it shouldn’t be, or get notified when the GPS trackers end up in areas of interest.

Get notified when a GPS tracker is in a specific location for too long (dwelling alerts)

Get notified when a certain sensor parameter is outside its usual limits

What you need to get started for GPS tracking of Shipments & Containers?

The first step is an internal one, you start by figuring out what you need the GPS tracking system for. It could be the same reasons we mentioned in the introduction section but you might need something a little different. Go through the next steps outlined in this section with your requirements in mind.

If appropriate, and where data is available, the ideal place to start is to quantify the value added to you or your customers in monetary terms.

Hardware requirements for GPS tracking of Shipments & Containers:

It might be challenging to think of what you might need in terms of hardware so we have compiled a list of questions that should help you narrow down the ideal tracker for your use-case:

  1. What is the ideal formfactor?
    If you have any size or weight requirements it should be made clear so you can quickly rule out any GPS trackers that do not satisfy these parameters.

  2. How often should the tracker send location updates?
    This depends on what you want to achieve. For theft prevention you will require infrequent location updates compared with monitoring and optimization which require much more frequent updates. This ties into hardware because it helps you answer the battery life requirements. Smart GPS trackers will be able to save battery when you do not need frequent location updates, the more updates you use in a short period of time the faster the battery will drain.
    With the location update frequency in mind, see how long the GPS hardware is advertised to last, this is critical for this use-case as once the shipment is sent, there is no way of physically accessing the tracker until it has reached its destination.

  3. What additional mounts and accessories would you need?
    Most GPS trackers built for tracking cargo come with a magnetic mount or some form of adhesive to help with mounting. For containers it is always advisable to mount the tracker on the outside, so make sure it is placed somewhere safe and is hard to identify. Sometimes this is not good enough and you would need something a little different.

  4. Do you need any additional sensors?
    Intelligent trackers are usually packed full of features and additional built in sensors. If that is not enough then Bluetooth enabled trackers along with BLE (or Bluetooth) sensors open up a whole new range of possibilities for sensory data collection. These BLE sensors usually work the same way, so if you do require them, make sure they are compatible with the GPS trackers you are looking at.

  5. How easy is it for you to charge the trackers?
    Whilst we recommend having a few extra trackers on rotation, it is worth looking into how you can bulk charge trackers. The simpler, and the less wires involved, that better.

Software requirements for GPS tracking of Shipments & Containers:

This section is designed to help you narrow down your software requirements. This ranges from platform features to overall ease of use.

  1. How reliable is the software?
    Software reliability is key, if you cannot rely on up to date information and a robust system then it is easy for things to go wrong. Uptime guarantees usually help give you an idea of what to expect (if companies actually stick to them!)

  2. How much autonomy does the tracking platform give you?
    A good platform will allow you to do almost everything you need at your own accord without resorting to contacting support or your account manager.

  3. What about platform security?
    End-to-end encryption is non-negotiable these days, so keep an eye out for that. If you are based in the EU then ensure the company you are planning to work with is operating in full compliance with the GDPR. If you still prefer to have your data stored elsewhere then siloed deployments are the way to go!

  4. How long does your location history stay saved with your GPS provider?
    Having the option to see all location history is always better than being limited to a few months of location history. Being able to check historical data for as far back as you can go is always a plus!

It might be very hard to assess the software features, hence why we always recommend you do a trial or a pilot run before you commit to a supplier. (more on this below)

Other requirements for GPS tracking of Shipments & Containers:

  1. Financial feasibility:
    In most cases GPS tracking requires both an upfront fee for the hardware and a running fee for the SIM and supporting services (portals, data storage, API,support to name a few).
    It is always important to assess the overall deployment cost over time, low hardware cost might make some offerings look appealing at a first glance but if the running fees are high then that becomes a problem. The opposite is also true, so always assess the overall deployment costs over as many years as you expect your project to last. One last thing that is overlooked: if you are deploying many trackers, you might need to budget for an employee or two to manage the trackers and monitor them for you.

Compare this financial analysis to the value added that the GPS system will give your organization or your customers where applicable.

  1. Demos and Pilots:
    For larger deployments, demos or trial runs using smaller quantities as a proof of concept is always advisable. This first hand experience with the hardware and supporting services will give you valuable insight on how your operations will look like in the future once you fully integrate the GPS trackers into your operations. This will also help you identify deal breakers and gauge how much and what level of support you can expect from your GPS provider. A formula that is usually recommended is to use 1% of the volume for 10% of the deployment time. For example: if you are looking to source 100 GPS trackers and the project length is 5 years, your trial should be done using at least 1 tracker over at least 6 months. Stuck on any of the above? Our team of tracking experts is here to help (CTA: Contact us, schedule a call etc)

CTA 2, add eval/pilot kit (adds recommended products to cart)

Other things to consider for GPS tracking of Shipments & Containers:

  1. Are you getting the complete system through one provider?
    It is advisable to avoid partial offerings. Companies that offer hardware, backend, connectivity and other supporting services tend to have offerings that are better put together. Besides having everything under one roof almost always means better support and no pointing fingers. You wouldn’t want to be stuck between your GPS supplier and your SIM provider with everyone assuming the issue is not from their side.

  2. Does the solution “work out of the box”?
    Pay attention to how much set up is required, the cost of managing trackers is usually clear, what is unclear however is the hidden costs associated with setting up your deployment.

  3. Warranty terms:
    It is easy to not pay too much attention to warranty because we expect everything to work flawlessly, forever. The reality is not so perfect, so make sure your investment is well protected!

  4. API availability:
    API is a must if you are planning to integrate the tracking data into a bespoke system.

  5. Edge cases where GPS trackers will not work:

    a)  Very rural areas with no cellphone coverage
    b)  Underground facilities where cellphone signal is very limited
    c)  Mounting trackers somewhere where they are completely surrounded by metal - this will block the signals. This is especially important with container tracking. Whilst stronger signals such as GSM do go through the container walls, a lot of the weaker signals are blocked. With that in mind you cannot expect GPS signals to be available for the GPS tracker from inside the container and location updates will not be sent if your container is in the hull of a shipping vessel with other containers stacked on top and either side of it.
  6. If indoor tracking is a requirement for you, Indoor accuracy of trackers should be acceptable for the use-case. GPS signals are not available indoors but there are ways around that:

    a) WiFi enabled trackers can help give you an accuracy of 10-40 meters indoors if WiFi is available.
    b) Bluetooth beacons working alongside Bluetooth enabled trackers can help with indoor accuracy. The accuracy here depends on the number of Bluetooth beacons deployed.
    c) UWB - Ultra wide band can be used for higher indoor accuracy requirements.
    d) Bluetooth ranging is great for last mile tracking and to find a Bluetooth enabled tracker when in close proximity.

FAQ for GPS tracking of Shipments & Containers:

Here is a list of frequently asked questions that we usually get for this use-case:

  1. What is the IATA (International Air Transport Association) regulation around placing GPS trackers in parcels and do they need to be disclosed?
    Our trackers do contain lithium batteries but are in full compliance with the IATA regulation. You do not need to disclose having trackers in parcels provided that you only place one tracker per package/parcel etc.

  2. Do I have to pay a recurring fee or a monthly subscription?
    Most of the time this is the case! There are always ongoing costs associated with running GPS trackers, whether it is SIM data fees, network access charges, server & backend expenses and support. We do have ways around it if you do not require regular updates, check out our no monthly fee/subscription offerings! We also offer a wide range of subscriptions which are designed to fit almost any user, but if we don’t then let us know and we will create something just for you.

  3. Are the devices rechargeable or single use?
    Although we boast about our incredible battery life across all our models and so it is easy to assume they are single use trackers but our trackers are designed to be rechargeable and reusable.

  4. How are notifications received?

    a) Email
    b) Push notifications using our App
    c) API push notifications
  5. How long will the battery last?
    This depends on the number of location updates you need per week/month. The more location updates the tracker is sending the faster the battery will be used up. The best way to figure out how long the battery lasts is to use the interactive battery life calculator available on our home page.

  6. Do I have to pay to use your API?
    No, API costs are already incorporated with our recurring fees (including prepay). We do not charge extra for API integrations.

  7. What if I have many trackers, how do I manage all of them?
    Our tracking portal is capable of displaying thousands of trackers on the same page, you can do a lot of bulk actions from there but we can also provide access to our admin portal where you can mass activate/deactivate and set configurations across all or groups of your trackers.