Why we chose BLE devices for asset quality control

Picking the right connected devices for your business

November 2017


Written by: Jason Spight

There are numerous technologies used to provide machine-to-machine communications for asset tracking. There are several reasons why we have chosen to go with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) over Global Positioning System (GPS) or Radio-Frequency Identification(RFID) for Ovalz’s Asset Solution, BlockTrac.

A Brief Technology Background 

Before explaining our preference, a bit of background to understand your options.

  1. BLE is a localized wireless area network that provides connectivity for mobile operating systems. It is a popular communication method for smartphone and tablets. It also consumes less energy than preceding versions of classic Bluetooth.
  2. GPS relies on satellites to track locations. It is ideal when all you need to track is a location, but cannot provide other details that could be relevant to your products, such as temperature. It also relies on the satellites being able to penetrate atmospheric conditions that may or may not limit the accuracy of tracking your assets.
  3. RFID is a well-established means of tracking shipments and has been used by retailers, manufacturers, and other logistics businesses. It collects data through radio frequencies through the RFID tags and can be read at high speeds.

Each of these technologies has strengths and weaknesses, so we used a decision matrix to determine which would be the best solution for our customers.

A Simple Decision Matrix

Our product objective was to provide a platform for real time asset tracking by partnering with device manufacturers.

We evaluated several trackers by using the following variables. 

  1. Cost Per Tracker/Label
     
  2.  Additional Features - Location is the required feature other desired features were temperature and motion detection
     
  3.  Reader/Gateway Required -  Some trackers required an ancillary device to relay tracker data to the host platform.  This is useful for remote asset tracking
     
  4.  Cost Per Reader Gateway
     

Here were the results.

Figure 1-1: Technology Decision Matrix

Why We Chose BLE Comparison.jpg

While RFID was the lowest cost, the lack of additional features immediately eliminated the RFID option. Our remaining focus was comparing BLE against GPS.

Analyzing the results from Figure 1-1. The following are the major difference between the BLE and GPS trackers we tested.

  • BLE enabled devices require a gateway to deliver data to the cloud
  • GPS trackers were able to relay data to the cloud without a gateway.
  • Both BLE and GPS trackers require a WiFi source.

The cost factor between BLE and GPS was now negligible. To align our vision with BLE, we took the following into account.

  • Dual Purpose – Our objectives were to track assets in-transit and inside a facility. BLE trackers and a reader provide the best dual purpose.
  • Stronger Connections - BLE is not limited by satellite connections. It can work in areas with spotty internet coverage.
  • Power in Protocol – iBeacon and Eddystone 
  • Power in your Palm -  BLE is used in mobile devices.

Conclusion

When we began looking for the right solution for our needs, there were three types of technologies that we considered as the basis for our asset tracking. By taking a closer look at the cost, features, and requirements of the three technologies, we were able quickly eliminate RFID because it was not versatile enough for what we wanted to offer customers. With BLE and GPS devices left, we examined what each had to offer beyond cost. Though GPS was cost effective and offered some of the features we wanted to provide our customers, it was limited in how those features could be used.

Ultimately, BLE offered a cost-effective means of providing the greatest number of options to our customers. The fact that it could also be used from mobile devices ensures that it was going to be our final choice. With so many people increasingly conducting business and tracking from mobile devices, we wanted to ensure that our offering would meet the needs of the way most people do business. With reliable tracking abilities, BLE allows us to offer the best asset tracking solution to our customers.

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