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Which Freight Tracking Strategy is Right for Your Business?

April 4, 2023

April 29, 2024

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x min read

Shippers possess unique perspectives and requirements when it comes to freight tracking. A perishable goods shipper might prioritize real-time temperature monitoring to assure stakeholders that their cargo maintains cold chain custody throughout the supply chain journey. In contrast, a retailer might prioritize knowing the delivery dates to better coordinate inventory management. Different types of visibility are needed depending on the shipment, and accurate tracking is essential in the freight management software market—which is projected to expand from $9.6 billion in 2022 to $17.7 billion by 2032.

One area that many shippers have in common is the growing expectation of customers to provide real-time insight into the status of shipments. To satisfy these expectations, shippers have more options than ever when it comes to freight tracking solutions. Still, figuring out which solution perfectly aligns with their operational needs is often challenging. This article explains several of the fastest-growing solutions for container tracking, their advantages and challenges, and how shippers can ultimately decide which is the most suitable tracking technology for their needs.

What is Freight Tracking?

Freight tracking is the process of monitoring cargo movement from origin to destination. It encompasses tracking the shipments’ progress throughout the transportation process, providing stakeholders with visibility over the movement of their goods. Tracking provides real-time updates on the location and status of shipments, and sends alert notifications if any sudden disruptions that require attention occur. Proper freight tracking enables companies to optimize operations by improving customer service and mitigating risks. 

Recent bumpy years have highlighted the increased need for freight tracking amid COVID-era disruptions. Significant disruptions to supply chains globally existed, such as limited capacity and delays, increased demand for certain products, and a rapid rise in e-commerce. Tive CEO Krenar Komini says a weaker freight market continues to “force many companies in the supply chain and visibility logistics space to ensure they are providing solutions that solve problems, improve the overall efficiency of supply chains, reduce waste, and continue to introduce innovations that drive supply chain performance going forward.” Businesses that embrace freight tracking help quickly locate and reroute delayed shipments while providing constant status updates to all interested parties, facilitating collaborative solutions.

5 Types of Freight Tracking Solutions

To achieve complete visibility, a variety of tracker types are available. Here are some different solutions shippers choose to monitor the status of freight—and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

GPS & Satellite Tracking

Global Positioning Systems (GPS) utilize a network of satellites to determine the exact location of an object. GPS tracking involves triangulating the site of a GPS-enabled device, and is used in freight tracking to monitor the movement and location of shipments in real time. Satellite tracking allows for more accurate ETA predictions and transparency throughout the supply chain. Trackers constantly communicate with satellites to come within a few meters of the actual location of the device or object. GPS tracking technology is often best suited for shipments that contain perishable or time-sensitive goods, high-value cargo, and hazardous materials—and is also ideal for international shipments. It also works well with companies that have a large fleet of vehicles.

  • Pros: GPS tracking provides highly-accurate results, pinpointing the exact location of the device or object in real time. It also tracks freight movements over extended distances, making it the perfect tool for longer routes. GPS tracking creates virtual boundaries around locations, making it easier to detect theft. These advantages lead to more optimized shipping routes that help reduce delivery times—and increase efficiency along the entire supply chain.
  • Cons: GPS container tracking is often expensive; many small to midsize shippers cannot afford this technology. It may have limited coverage in remote areas with poor GPS signals and be vulnerable to other nearby electronic device signals—resulting in inaccuracies. GPS tracking also relies on battery power, meaning the signal may be lost entirely quite suddenly. Another limitation of GPS tracking technology is that “blue dot” visibility doesn’t provide a complete picture of a shipment’s current condition.

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)

RFID uses radio waves to identify and monitor objects. RFID tags are small electronic devices attached to shipments, and are then tracked by RFID readers. This solution requires an RFID tag and a scanner to work. The tag contains an antenna to send and receive radio signals. It also has a small chip to store information. RFID tracker technology is often beneficial for shipments with large items, or for those needing frequent inventory management. 

  • Pros: These tags supply tracking that identifies shipments throughout the supply chain, constantly monitoring the location and condition of products. The tags are highly accurate and eliminate any need for manual tracking. Shippers, freight forwarders, and brokers can read them from a distance—providing additional shipment security.
  • Cons: RFID tags are often expensive, which may turn away small shippers that can’t afford the technology. They may also not be compatible with all types of freight, and may encounter interference from other electronic devices. Finally, they may have a limited range, which could be an issue in large warehouses or distribution centers.

Radio Tracking

Radio tracking works by attaching a transmitter to a shipment and employing radio receivers to detect emitted signals. Though similar to RFID tags, which rely on external power sources, radio trackers already have the power source installed—significantly increasing signal range. The data transmitted is directional in nature, which allows for approximating the signal strength estimation. Radio tracking is helpful for locations where GPS doesn’t reach, such as indoors, underground, or remote outdoor areas. 

  • Pros: This tracking system offers a broader range than RFID tracking, allowing for accurate warehouse and distribution center monitoring. It is also more affordable than RFID. It’s easy to use and set up, and is compatible with various freight types—regardless of size or shape.
  • Cons: While very accurate, radio tracking is often a step below RFID tracking in most situations, which is rough if precise location tracking is required for a shipment. Radio tracking is restricted by line of sight, reducing visibility depending on how items are stacked. In most situations, radio tracking may not be able to collect as much data as RFID tracking, and doesn’t provide the same level of security from theft or loss.

Cellular Triangulation

Cell phone triangulation is a passive way to track freight, as it relies on the periodic signals transmitted between a cellular device and any nearby cell towers. Cellular triangulation uses the device’s signal strength to judge where it is in relation to surrounding towers. This type of technology is similar to GPS in some ways, but is used more to track in areas where cell towers are far apart—or there are no other tracking possibilities. The shipment’s location is estimated by analyzing the signal strength of the nearest cell tower. Cellular triangulation is popular for high-volume or low-cost cargo where more advanced tracking technology is unnecessary.

  • Pros: This type of tracking is usually inexpensive and easy to set up—no special hardware or equipment is needed to install and make it operational. Cellular triangulation also offers real-time visibility into the shipment, requires little maintenance, and can cover large areas efficiently.
  • Cons: This type of tracking is not always the most precise, and its accuracy can be affected by the number of towers nearby, the strength of the device’s signal, and any interference in the area. In addition, sell phone triangulation may not always offer additional information on the shipment, such as temperature or humidity readings.

Geofencing

Based on GPS or RFID systems, geofencing is a technology that draws virtual boundaries around locations. Geofencing doesn’t report location data constantly, but instead detects the location of an object and triggers an alert or notification when the device crosses the boundary. Setting up geofences around sites—such as warehouses and ports—lets stakeholders know precisely when trucks enter or leave the perimeter. Geofencing tracking is ideal for shipments moving into a congested area, or where the driver might not be 100% familiar with where to go to find the exact pickup or delivery location.

  • Pros: Geofencing allows for real-time, up-to-date tracking, leading to more efficient freight management as companies optimize shipping routes and reduce delivery times. It also provides enhanced security, as virtual boundaries may be curated around the freight location, making detecting any entrance into that area easier to prevent theft or loss. Geofencing is also easy to set up and customize for each business.
  • Cons: Geofencing can offer limited accuracy, especially in areas with poor GPS coverage. The sometimes-poor coverage can also lead to limited visibility in certain situations. Its reliance on GPS means that weather conditions or other obstacles might affect the signal. Geofencing may also not be suitable for all freight that is not easily moved, and it can’t collect as much data as other types of tracking.

The Future of Freight Tracking

Ecommerce was already becoming popular before the pandemic hit. COVID-19 intensified the need for home deliveries, as people either couldn’t—or didn’t want to—venture out of their homes to shop. And while things are essentially back to normal, ecommerce will undoubtedly play a vital role in the future of the supply chain. Customers desire ease, speed, and real-time visibility into their shopping. And a smoother experience, such as that offered by seamless omnichannel models, is also essential—and will continue to gain traction as tracking technologies evolve.

Global ecommerce projects to have a market size of $27 trillion by 2027, rising at a 14.7% compounded annual growth rate until then. As ecommerce continues to flourish, shippers will need to invest more in freight tracking technologies—enabling them to offer insights into the location and condition of shipments for customers. Consumer expectations are rising, and real-time tracking, predictive analysis, and automation will remain paramount—to ensure faster, more convenient delivery options. Drones and autonomous vehicles may also soon provide  a different way to meet consumer needs—and adapt to the rapidly-changing landscape.

Another area to watch in freight tracking is sustainability efforts. Many customers desire to do business with companies doing their best to combat climate change and reduce their carbon footprint. Companies must keep an eye on providing eco-friendly solutions in freight tracking, and focus on finding ways to reduce waste and carbon emissions. Alternative fuels will be essential in ensuring that monitoring and deliveries are climate friendly. Companies must be able to track their emissions accurately, and demonstrate how they are striving towards sustainability goals in each shipment—to find ways to reduce their carbon footprint.

Move Beyond the Blue Dot with Tive

Gone are the days when customers had only a vague idea when their shipment would be delivered, and companies would cross their fingers and hope for the best—without knowing where their drivers were or the current condition of freight. Real-time tracking is more vital than ever, and it is unlikely that will change in the coming years. End-to-end visibility is paramount to meeting customer expectations. Companies have unique needs, and each should individually study which container tracking method is best for them.

Tive goes beyond offering more than just a blue dot on the screen. The Tive solution provides real-time visibility into your shipments—enabling you to monitor the condition and location of cargo. Tive trackers offer hyper-accurate insight, so you are never left in the dark when disruptions require prompt attention. Contact Tive to gain unparalleled insight into tracking your freight.

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