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Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Cellular: What’s What in the Wide World of Wireless

April 17, 2018

April 29, 2024

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When it comes to supply chain visibility, investing in a wireless technology to help you monitor your in-transit goods is key. But there are many different options, and these different visibility tools rely on different wireless networks to communicate. What are the differences, and how can you figure out which solution is best for you?

As you consider different technology options, it is helpful to understand the pros and cons of each. Depending on the technology and application, different wireless solutions will have different power consumption rates, require different levels of infrastructure, and enable visibility into more static or more mobile environments.

Wi-Fi

When you think about wireless technologies, it’s likely that Wi-Fi is one of the first things that comes to mind. Wi-Fi is the foundation of many home and office communications systems, be it streaming video on your couch or sending emails at work. Wi-Fi is great for high-bandwidth communication, but that comes at a price: Wi-Fi is generally a big power consumer, and most devices that use Wi-Fi need to be recharged frequently.

In addition, Wi-Fi devices can only connect to the network if they are in close proximity to a Wi-Fi router. Plus, most Wi-Fi connections are private and password-protected, so they are off-limits to external devices. This means that Wi-Fi devices will generally be unable to rely on public Wi-Fi infrastructure, and so an effective industrial Wi-Fi system will likely require significant investment into network infrastructure so that Wi-Fi devices can connect.

Because of their high power consumption and reliance on private infrastructure, Wi-Fi devices tend to be limited in mobility. They cannot travel more than a few hundred feet away from a router, and even if they are within range, they will likely need to be recharged after just a few days. This means that while Wi-Fi is great for in-home or in-office communications, it is less useful for supply chain visibility.

Bluetooth

The other commonly used wireless network for consumer devices is Bluetooth. While similar to Wi-Fi in many ways, Bluetooth is more optimized for device-to-device communications, as opposed to communicating from devices to a central access point.

Because it is designed for different applications than Wi-Fi, Bluetooth offer a few different pros and cons. In general, Bluetooth-powered communication has much lower power consumption rates than Wi-Fi. This means that Bluetooth devices can often last much longer than Wi-Fi devices, making them potentially a better fit for some long-term monitoring applications.

However, this lower power consumption is partially a result of Bluetooth’s significantly smaller transmission radius. Bluetooth devices have to be just a few feet away from one another in order to communicate, severely limiting their utility for many mobile applications (such as tracking in-transit goods, which will move out of range of any stationary communications hub). As a result, Bluetooth systems also require significant investment into infrastructure in one of two forms: The first option is to install a “hub” (or “gateway”) transmitter in every truck, every container, and everywhere the goods travel. The second option is to ensure that the goods are always within a few feet of a person carrying a smartphone running a proprietary application at all times. Both of these options, while feasible in very specific instances, are not realistic for most freight.

Cellular

The best way to avoid the costs and logistical nightmare of building your own communications network infrastructure (as required by a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth system) is to go with a network that someone else already built: cellular. Cellular offers many of the advantages of other wireless networks, but devices can use the existing cellular network, with no need to build any private infrastructure.

Traditionally, cellular devices have been limited by their high power consumption rates. However, recent advances focused on supporting the IoT (Internet of Things) industry have enabled new, low-power cellular communications frameworks that use the existing global cellular network infrastructure.

Now, supply chain devices such as the Tive tracker are taking advantage of this infrastructure to offer a supply chain monitoring device that lasts up to six months on a single charge. With a complex, modern supply chain spanning many countries and many months, a long lifespan and reliable global connectivity are key to ensure you maintain end-to-end visibility over in-transit goods.

Supply Chain Visibility

Cellular devices can offer global coverage, and last long enough to cover the months-long modern supply chain -- all without any investment in costly network infrastructure. Although Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are very effective in certain applications, when it comes to supply chain visibility, cellular is the clear winner. To learn more about how Tive’s cellular-powered tracker can help bring a new level of visibility to your supply chain, request a demo today.

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