How Bluetooth® Low Energy Is Transforming IoT Asset Tracking

Digital Matter
How Bluetooth Low Energy Is Transforming IoT Asset Tracking
Illustration: © IoT For All

For most of human history, shipping goods was a leap of faith. Medieval merchants risked entire fortunes on seaborne exports. All they could do was hope the fleet arrived safely at foreign ports. Often, it didn’t.  

And while piracy and shipwrecks are a lot less common today, many supply chains still suffer from a lack of visibility, compounding risk on risk. The leap of faith is still with us—but it doesn’t have to be

The maturity of cellular networks such as LTE-M (Cat-M1) and NB-IoT has been combined with innovative asset tracking devices to provide consistent, often near real-time visibility for valuable assets as they move. It’s not surprising that the IoT asset tracking market is projected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 11.3 percent through 2027, reaching a global value of $6.6 billion by that year. But for some assets, location data—the primarily GNSS-driven center of most asset tracking systems—isn’t enough. 

Take cold chains, for instance. When you’re shipping a vaccine or frozen foods, you need precise, reliable temperature monitoring. Typically, the asset tracking devices that accomplish this task are hard-wired into reefer trailers. That doesn’t help when cargo leaves the trailer. For consistent measurements, you need battery-powered devices capable of condition-monitoring and maintaining asset-level visibility

Until fairly recently, however, battery-powered IoT asset tracking devices struggled to meet the need. Always-on temperature monitoring required too much power. SIM-connected sensors were too expensive to scale. That’s all changing, thanks to a surprisingly familiar technology. 

New applications of this trusty short-range wireless technology standard are creating powerful new opportunities for asset monitoring within broader asset tracking systems. That tech? Bluetooth, specifically a low-power twist on the same technology that launched a thousand wireless headphone brands. 

Here’s what every shipper, carrier, and supply chain stakeholder should know about the asset-monitoring capabilities of Bluetooth Low Energy

Getting More for Less with Bluetooth Low Energy

Bluetooth Low Energy connects devices in relative proximity while drawing up to 10 times less power from devices than traditional Bluetooth. It’s an energy-efficient, low-cost way to transmit data from an array of sensors to a central gateway. Then the gateway harnesses WiFi, cell towers, or both to send that data to decision-makers, wherever they’re located.  

The low-power capability of Bluetooth Low Energy is particularly helpful in battery-powered asset tracking systems—and when you’re tracking shipments across long journeys by rail, road, air, and/or sea, battery power is often the only viable option.   

Bluetooth tags are sensors that you can attach to just about any asset, from a full pallet load to a single, high-value piece of equipment. A vast and growing ecosystem of Bluetooth Low Energy sensing devices allows shippers to maintain a constant stream of actionable data about their property with precise measurements on things like: 

  • Temperature
  • Impacts
  • Humidity
  • Movement
  • Door status (open/closed)

Bluetooth Low Energy tags don’t require SIM cards, and they’re generally cheaper than a standalone cellular tracking device. That means Bluetooth Low Energy allows you to track more for less: More assets. More conditions. More insight. All with less power and less cost. But how does it work?    

Bluetooth Low Energy Devices in the Asset Tracking Technology Stack

Adding Bluetooth Low Energy devices to an asset tracking sensor array is simple. You just need the following components: 

  • Bluetooth Low Energy tags, which can track approximate location, temperature, humidity, door status, and more.
  • A Bluetooth Low Energy gateway, which bridges the gap between devices and the cellular (and/or Wifi) connections that send that data to your asset tracking platform. Choose a GPS asset tracking device with Bluetooth Low Energy connectivity for full-service asset tracking with valuable focused condition data. 
  • The cellular connection, via LTE-M or NB-IoT. Look for asset tracking devices that support automatic roaming between LTE-M and NB-IoT networks to improve global coverage. 
  • A customer end-point: the mobile apps or desktop platforms that receive, process, and organize location and condition data for use. 

The diversity of Bluetooth Low Energy tags in a rapidly evolving market creates a plug-and-play ecosystem. Today, you can mix and match sensors to customize your data capture—but only if you choose the right Bluetooth Low Energy gateway, the heart of your asset tracking and monitoring system.  

What To Look For in an IoT Asset Tracking Bluetooth Gateway

To build an asset tracking/monitoring solution that tells you exactly what you need to know, start by finding the right asset tracking device, which doubles as a Bluetooth Low Energy gateway. Here are the technology features you need to get the best results: 

  • Single-deployment battery life. Battery-powered asset trackers/gateways create more opportunities for supply chain tracking and monitoring. You can place them anywhere, even on rented equipment, because you don’t have to hard-wire them to power sources. Some of today’s asset tracking edge devices boast a battery life of up to 10 years at a time, so redeployment doesn’t become an issue. 
  • Open Bluetooth Low Energy ecosystems. Watch out for gateways that are only compatible with a single manufacturer’s products. That locks you out of the open market, which can provide a wider variety of measurements as well as lower costs than a closed Bluetooth ecosystem. Instead, look for an open ecosystem that works with third-party accessories.     
  • Signal filtering. Some gateways pick up any Bluetooth signal in the vicinity. That can cause problems in, say, a busy distribution center, where workers may use Bluetooth voice-picking systems, or even just personal headphones. Choose a gateway that can filter out these signals to keep data streams clean and uncorrupted while reducing data costs and server loads.

With the right gateway on hand, you can take full advantage of the monitoring capabilities made possible by Bluetooth Low Energy. In other words, you get more for less, and can finally consign the shipper’s leap of faith to the dustbin of history. 

Digital Matter
Digital Matter
Digital Matter is a leading global developer of low-power GPS and IoT hardware for asset tracking and management applications. Engineered to outperform, we offer a versatile range of  LPWAN asset tracking hardware with the largest portfolio of int...
Digital Matter is a leading global developer of low-power GPS and IoT hardware for asset tracking and management applications. Engineered to outperform, we offer a versatile range of  LPWAN asset tracking hardware with the largest portfolio of int...