Most people are familiar with the frustrations of having spotty or no service when they need it most. This is especially true for those who work in many of Canada’s industries. Forestry, oil & gas, and mining are just some of the industries where people and fleet assets may find themselves without the ability to communicate back to base on any given day. When assets are up in the Rocky Mountains, out in the forest, or deep in the Canadian Shield, fleet managers who are trying to plan out jobs are forced to rely on the occasional phone call to try and stay up to date on what is happening with their assets.
Remote area work can be more than a frustration though. Not being able to reach your drivers and operators provides a major hurdle in logistics, job planning, and overall safety. Implementing a GPS tracking solution gives fleet managers total visibility into their fleet, but in some cases, they need even more.
Cellular GPS Network
The term Global Positioning System, or GPS, is often taken for granted. Specifically, the global part of the acronym is an impressive feat. In order to be truly global, GPS uses a network of satellites that are carefully arranged in a Medium-Earth Orbit (at an altitude around 20,000 km) so that everywhere on Earth is usually visible to at least 4 satellites at any given time.
Having a basic understanding of how GPS works is important in helping you make a fleet tracking and management decision that best suits your fleet’s needs. GPS tracking is an incredibly complex process that utilizes a constant flow of data from those satellites to pinpoint a user’s position on Earth, based on the time it takes for a GPS device to receive the signal from the satellites. That description is an over-simplification, but captures GPS in essence.
Collecting the data and pinpointing location is only part of the process when it comes to GPS tracking systems though. Most GPS fleet tracking devices function on a cellular network that allows them to transmit all of that collected data somewhere else (rather than presenting it on a screen directly on the GPS receiver, like a recreational handheld GPS would). It is through that cellular network that a device transmits data to a fleet management system, where a user can access all of the data and use functions such as Geo-fences, fuel use, diagnostic trouble codes, driver behaviour reports, etc.
The drawbacks of a cellular network are the same as those that you would experience with a cell phone. Coverage isn’t always available, especially in remote areas. If a fleet asset is located in an area where a cell phone can’t make a call, chances are that the asset GPS device can’t transmit all of its data either. That doesn’t mean all the data from a tracking device is lost, however. Similar to sending a text message or receiving a voicemail with no cell service, once coverage is restored the data will transmit back to the end user (like when you receive several voicemails or texts all at once as you get off of an airplane).
While cellular-networked devices may be an excellent solution for many businesses, for companies with fleets or assets that operate outside of a cellular coverage area more often than not, inconsistent or non-existent transmission of can be a major issue. Industries such as forestry, mining, and oil & gas often have remote work sites that are well beyond consistent cellular network coverage, and are therefore limited to what they can do with their fleet management systems.
Satellite GPS Network
Similar to how GPS uses satellites to determine a receiver’s position at any point on Earth, commercial satellite networks, referred to as constellations, can be utilized to provide global network coverage. A GPS tracking system that partners with a commercial satellite network is able to provide users with uninterrupted service, meaning that your fleet assets in remote areas won’t ever be invisible to your management system. A GPS tracking device that utilizes satellite coverage has some significant advantages over cellular networks, simply because it does not need to rely on spotty coverage based on cell towers.
Assets (both mobile and immobile) that operate in remote areas can now be monitored and managed with the same amount of visibility a traditional highway fleet enjoys. Titan GPS has partnered with two commercial satellite providers to make sure that we are always able to offer fleets a system that fits their specific needs.
The Iridium Global Network operates the world’s largest commercial satellite constellation, with 66 cross-linked Low-Earth Orbit satellites that provide data connectivity worldwide. Titan’s Dual-Mode GPS tracking devices are designed to utilize cellular networks when they are available, but seamlessly switch to the Iridium network once cellular coverage is no longer available.
Titan GPS has also partnered with Globalstar, a low cost, one-way satellite data delivery solution that is ideal for tracking assets in remote locations. Titan’s Globalstar devices provide coverage where cellular devices fall short. With solar charging, self-powered, and hardwired devices available, your fleet will always be visible, anywhere, anytime.
Give and Take
As with most things, choosing between cellular and satellite GPS tracking solutions involves some give and take. Both systems have many pros, but choosing one over the other requires balancing the specific needs of your fleet as well.
Satellite-based systems, as you would expect, are more expensive than cellular. Because of the cost of data transmission via satellite, those GPS devices communicate with the end user less frequently than their cellular counterparts. Reporting intervals vary depending on device and plan, but generally, satellite-linked devices do not provide the same level of real-time monitoring that cellular devices do.
While a satellite GPS device provides unfettered tracking nearly anywhere in the world, the costs and complexities of the devices and networks limit some capabilities, meaning that they don’t provide the same level of detailed data that cellular devices are capable of. Similar to the functions of a smart phone vs. a sat phone – a standard smart phone can use a variety of apps and extra features, but is limited to cellular coverage areas, while a sat phone is largely focused on consistent, reliable voice communication with no coverage limitations. GPS tracking devices are separated by a similar trade-off in functionality, where a cellular-linked receiver can provide unmatched depth of data and insight into your fleet, and satellite-linked receivers allow somewhat more limited access, but without the restraints of proximity to a cell tower.
Get in touch with one of our experts and find out which solution is right for your fleet’s needs.
Remote Asset Tracking
The ability to track and monitor an asset in a remote location can be a game changer for fleet managers. Often, work in a remote location is not a simple in-and-out job. For vehicles and equipment that spend the majority of their time out of cellular service, it can be difficult to get all the information needed to optimally manage a fleet.
Simple tasks like dispatching a truck to move a piece of equipment from one location to another can be a hassle when you can’t stay in contact with the truck or the equipment. Planning maintenance and service with remote-based equipment can be just as difficult. With a satellite network-linked GPS tracking solution that doesn’t rely on cellular coverage, fleet managers can easily locate and manage assets in even the most remote areas of Canada.