Tracking your assets: Satcom-on-the-move

by Staff Reporter | September 2nd, 2012

Thierry Watters, managing director, Xsat Usa, LLC

Tracking is not just about following an asset, it also means managing the asset, says Thierry Watters, managing director, Xsat Usa, LLC, as he explains how the latest tracking systems transmit physical parameters such as temperature, humidity and engine status with minimum setup time.

Over the past seven years, the technology has matured and has become more mainstream. There are still complex and expensive beacons, but there is now a wide range of affordable solutions for small businesses and private individuals

How have asset-tracking solutions evolved over the years?

Asset-tracking has evolved through the years in many ways. The equipment is more sophisticated and the data it transmits is more elaborate. Also, this equipment used to be extremely expensive, required a lot of maintenance and only large corporations and governments could afford it. Over the past seven years, the technology has matured and has become more mainstream. There are still complex and expensive beacons, but there is now a wide range of affordable solutions for small businesses and private individuals.

What are the tracking services on offer?

Each type of asset requires a specific solution. Tracking often includes monitoring of the asset’s state. For example, temperature of cargo, closed or open doors, fuel level, driver’s rest time, pipeline’s status – there are specific solutions in each case. With our web-based platform, a customer can track and monitor various types of assets from one single interface; even through iPhones , Blackberries or iPads.

What is the hardware used for asset tracking?

The hardware can range from a simple handheld beacon such as SPOT, to high-end container tracking systems such as BlackBird systems or military grade Skybitz beacons. In addition, satcom devices such as the Iridium 9575 satellite phone or the Inmarsat Fleet Broadband have the option to be used as tracking systems when coupled with our web-based solution.

Regarding the future of tracking, you have the MicroTracker, the smallest Iridium-based beacon – it is completely self-contained and scriptable. Users will be able to programme it according to their requirements.

What are some of the requirements for asset tracking that have come your way?

Large corporate customers usually have complex requests. For instance, we are working on setting up a major pharmaceutical company with an elaborate tracking system for high value containers.

This system would not only locate the containers but also provide key information about the cooling system that maintains the substances in good condition. Smaller companies have more basic requirements; for example, a fishing company we work with wanted to locate their vessels in order to have the leading fishing vessel guide the other ships to the right locations. Finally, we also have adventurers and yachting customers who need tracking for emergency purposes. Most customers are interested in location, email alerts, emergency messaging, geofencing alerts when assets leave or arrive in an area, and the ability to ping a device.

“An individual tracking beacon is a self-contained tracker that locates your position through satellites anywhere in the world. These systems are designed for a single person. There are two main types of tracking beacons, GSM based and satellite based. Both use GPS satellites to acquire position data, but they relay the information to a server/website either via cell towers or satellites such as the Iridium constellation or GlobalStar. These beacons are usually small, have their own power source and are low cost”

What are the problems faced when offering asset-tracking solutions?

The main problems concern high-end systems. Systems that monitor multiple parameters such as temperature, engine status, or fuel levels, require a lot of maintenance and IT support. Often customers do not factor this when they decide to purchase a complex tracking system. Modern, smaller systems are usually problem proof, and require minimum IT knowledge.

How is the billing tackled?

Billing satellite telecommunication services is a significant problem in our industry because providers and resellers have to work with various suppliers who each have their own billing rules, call detail records’ formats, file formats, technical limitations, prices and so on. We have a system that handles all that for the service provider – it enables invoicing of multi-technology clients seamlessly and offers to the service providers’ dealers the ability to resell complex airtime bundles to high-end customers such as maritime fleets or the military.



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