Shutting down of 2G Networks – Looming challenges for IOT in Logistics industry

Telecom Service Providers globally have been shutting down 2G networks. Operators in United States, Europe, Japan, Singapore, Australia have shut down 2G networks. With the advent of 5G, some Operators are also shutting down 3G Networks as well. Here’s a region-wise list of countries with 2G switch-off dates. This India-focused article proposes to examine the implications of switching off as well as poor availability of 2G Data services, that is the backbone of over a million vehicles in operation. Several fleet operators have deployed GPS devices in their vehicles and have integrated the data as a critical part of their supply chain for transport of people and goods. The challenges that have increased significantly in the last five years, as India moved rapidly to 4G and the advent of 5G, are detailed below: -
  • We are noticing significant deterioration in the performance of 2G networks especially 2G data being given low priority prevent availability of information in real-time. This is across all Telco providers in India. Even SOS situations, in case of people logistics may not be addressed in real-time. Help may not be available in real-time in vehicles that have GPS and SOS button deployed. Whilst all statutory authorities are making GPS mandatory, none of them seem to worry or address this issue
  • The cost of a 2G Data only plan is presently less than Rs 50 per month. This plan also provides for 100 SMS which are used to communicate with the devices. The cost of a 4G plan (pure data plans are not available) is upwards of Rs 150 per month. In other words, SIM monthly charges are going to go up by 300%.
    • Do not expect the SIM costs to go down as all the TELCO have bought their licenses at huge cost and have to make a reasonable return on their capital.
  • The cost of a plain vanilla 2G GPS tracker manufactured in India is around Rs 2,000/- per device (local manufacturers such as Autocop). Imported Chinese Devices are available around Rs 2500 and High-quality devices from China and Israel are available at over Rs 3200. Thanks to the rapid dollar rise against the rupees, the costs are expected to go up by 15% soon.
    • Against the above, the cost of 4G/Wifi GPS trackers are upwards of Rs. 10,000 /- per device. We expect the costs to increase by 300% on account of this. The high cost of these devices increase instances of theft of these devices
  • Exposure to huge risks including criminal in nature if SIM cards are misused by drivers for illegal activities. We have experienced several times drivers taking the SIM card out of GPS devices only to realize the data rates are unusable for them to enjoy unlimited high bandwidth at the cost of fleet owners/device service providers. 4G SIM cards are extremely valuable and is liquid currency for the drivers. With stringent cyber laws, Fleet owners run the risk of being booked for various offences if the driver watches inappropriate child videos by stealing the SIM. It would be arduous for the owners to prove their innocence and get out of the mess. SIM locking will become mandatory to protect the interest of the SIM Card owners.
  • Several discussions can be found on Phone Vs GPS and using the driver phone as a primary IOT device for Location Based Services. This works very well when the Phone is the source of income for the driver and not otherwise when it is a part of the process that monitors his own performance. Most importantly, a mobile phone provides 100s of other services that we do not need for IOT logistics and hence power consumption in the vehicle can be managed exceptionally well when the need to manage vehicles on 24/7 basis even when they are not in use.
Summing up, we can expect a 200% increase in vehicle tracking costs in the near future, if we need reliable, real-time IOT data from moving vehicles.

How GPS, Cell Tower and Wi-Fi triangulation help in tracking location?

In the past decade, transportation both at the consumer and business level has undergone rapid transformations resulting in improved productivity and customer experience. The key to that has been the ability to track movement in real time. Real time tracking is ubiquitous, but for the transport managers and technically inclined it is fascinating to go beyond the surface of visual maps to understand how GPS and other location tracking methods work.

GPS Triangulation

b2 The Global Positioning System (GPS) developed by US, is a satellite-based navigation system made up of 27 satellites. Smartphones and GPS devices which have GPS receiver built in to them, are the two most popular devices for location tracking. If the vehicle carries a Smartphone or GPS device, to identify its 2-D position (latitude and longitude), the GPS receiver in a device or phone connects with at least 3 satellites. If it locks with 4 or more satellites in view, the receiver can determine its 3-D position (latitude, longitude and altitude). As illustrated in the above image, the GPS receiver identifies its distance to each of the satellite to deduce its location through mathematical technique trilateration – a complex version of triangulation. Generally, a GPS receiver tracks 8 or more satellites and connects with 3 or 4 satellites to determine its location. As the vehicle moves, the distance between the GPS receiver and the satellite varies, enabling the receiver to compute its location instantly. As per official US Gov report, the GPS receivers in Smartphones/GPS devices can typically locate within 4.9 meter accuracy depending on various terrestrial and atmospheric conditions.

Cell Tower Triangulation

b3 Cell tower triangulation is another technique widely used to identify the location of the phone/device. A cell phone signal may be picked up by three or more cell towers enabling the triangulation to work. So when a triangulation happens – with the point of overlap of three signals, it is possible to estimate the location of the cell phone based on its distance from the three towers. The cell towers broadcast their location and by knowing the distance of the phone from each towers, the co-ordinates of the cell phone is calculated. Average accuracy of cell towers could vary between 500m - 1500m. In urban areas where towers are in every nook and corner, it is possible to deduce the location of phone/device with greater accuracy.

Wi-Fi Positioning

b4 It is fair to wonder what Wi-Fi has got to do with identifying your co-ordinates. Companies such as Google and Apple have been using this method to identify your location. So how does this work? Phones have a background location service which constantly seeks for Wi-Fi access points and sends Wi-Fi addresses (bssid) along with its location identified through GPS or cell tower triangulation to their respective servers and stored in their database. The fact that there are more Wi-Fi hotspots than trees in a city enables Google or Apple to identify your location by merely knowing the strength of Wi-Fi signals on your phone. This data is available for app developers through APIs which any developer can leverage to locate phones using Wi-Fi positioning. The accuracy of Wi-Fi in dense city can vary between 10 - 25m and in sub-urban areas with less access points 20 - 100m.