Track your stuff. All of it. With Wirepas Massive Tracking
By Youssef Kamel
When Teppo (our CEO) asked me to lead our Smart Tracking initiative at Wirepas, I wanted to know more about tracking technologies: where they come from, what the trends are etc. During my career at Wirepas, I have helped our lead customers deploy large scale Smart Tracking projects, some of them including millions of devices. But back then, “tracking” was just one of the many features attached to our mesh.
Now that we are looking into Smart Tracking as a market on its own – dedicating serious attention to it and building a specific product line for it – I knew I needed to understand more about its history, applications, use cases and market. In particular, I wanted to learn where and how we could help our customers build serious and sustainable value. Here are some of my key findings from the past couple of months.
This is nothing new
When I looked into the history of goods and asset tracking, I found out that asset tags – used for sheep inventory – are as old as the earliest writings. Some inventory tags discovered in Egypt are more than 5400 years old . Also interesting is that, since then, most goods and assets are still tracked and counted in a very similar way, manually, and reported on sheets of paper.
With advances in technology, there are obviously huge opportunities to improve the tracking and inventory process. In some cases, this can translate into significant efficiency gains (some of our customers deploying Wirepas Smart Tracking told us they saved more than $100M/year in operating costs) but in many other cases, technology does not bring the ROI to justify the investment.
So, there are good reasons why many companies still employ staff to count and track their goods and assets . This will continue as long as the efficiency gains brought by modern tracking technologies are not substantial and proven.
We are not the only technology out there - but, this is not about technology
Since the use of Egyptian asset tags and the invention of paper, many new technologies have been developed, including Barcode, RFID, GPS, BLE, Wifi and more recently AoA, UWB and Wirepas Massive Tracking.
We’d like to think this has been a linear process, where a new tracking technology is introduced, gains momentum and replaces the old one. In practice, many of these technologies will continue to co-exist, as they are solving specific problems in specific use cases:
- How do you detect theft of clothes in a retail store?
- How do you implement collision avoidance in a factory or a warehouse?
- How about large scale inventory and continuous goods tracking?
- How to deploy a tracking system without disturbing the business operations?
- How to minimize the infrastructure cost and cabling?
It is not about demonstrating that your technology is better than others, it is very much about understanding the tracking use case, the industrial problem to be solved and finding out how well your technology can solve it. It’s crucial to define classes of projects where your technology brings significant value to the customer, allowing them to scale without going through long and painful POCs.
And, of course, technology is not enough, customers need complete tracking systems and help to integrate them into their IT.
This is definitely huge and getting bigger, faster
Despite the fragmentation, the smart tracking market is currently experiencing double-digit growth (expected CAGR of 11.6% for the coming 5 years). Source IDC 2020
I believe most market studies don’t take into account major technology disruptions which will enable continuous tracking and monitoring of a large variety of goods and will deliver an even higher volume.
- Bluetooth radios used by Wirepas Massive are reducing dramatically in cost and size
- The infrastructure cost required to deploy a Wirepas smart tracking is insignificant - a hundred times less than an RFID infrastructure and requires no human intervention
As a result, the market is moving from tracking high value assets at given places from time-to-time to tracking medium value assets and goods anywhere in real time.
- In industry, almost any asset will be trackable
- In logistics, the market will move from tracking containers to pallets and then to goods
- In hospitals, appliances, beds and personnel will be tracked
What we bring and what we don’t bring
A positioning system based on Wirepas technology delivers simple benefits to customers in Smart Tracking applications. These include:
- The lowest cost infrastructure: Wirepas’ tracking infrastructure is extremely cheap (battery-operated locators). You also save the cost of cables and installation, and more importantly the cost of disrupting operations – as the system can be installed seamlessly by any employee
- Reliable in harsh environments and at large scale
- Every tag can provide location, sensing and can communicate in both directions
- You can perform very fast and high density inventory
- Tags support automatic roaming (for end-to-end logistics cases)
Here are some examples where Wirepas Massive Tracking brings significant value:
- Saving 10s of kilometers of wires and a messy environment in large warehouses
- Solving end-to-end logistics problems for large data center providers
- Detecting non-technical losses (i.e. theft) of high value goods which disappear from trucks or storage areas
- Allowing fast inventory of 100,000 pallets in a service center
- Saving weeks of searching for the right ordered car in car dealer’s giant parking lots
- Saving hours of nurses' time every week searching for the right asset, bed or equipment
- Providing safety and efficiency for construction workers
Wirepas Massive Tracking does not provide sub-meter accuracy and, good news, you very likely don’t need sub-meter accuracy.
Where and how we help customers
It is good to have tracking information. However, it is even more important that the information finds its way into customers' ERP and IT systems. This is the reason we have focused on providing a complete Smart Tracking system from tag to server and why we are developing a strong ecosystem of partners in all regions to help customers integrate and deploy it. We provide:
- an embedded software which runs on a large variety of asset tags with different form factors, sensors and price points providing freedom of choice for the hardware (tags, anchors, gateways)
- simplifying the life of our hardware partners
- allowing built-in interoperability between vendors
- a set of simple cloud APIs to help with integrating the system
- Support from local system integrators and solution providers who know where the technology fits and where it doesn’t in order to help customers select and deploy without the need to run endless POCs.
Our system integrators deliver Smart Tracking projects in warehouses, yards, car parks, construction, containers, factories, large campuses, hospitals, agriculture and livestock and in end-to-end logistics.
By simplifying tracking systems and dramatically reducing their cost, we are lowering the barriers for adoption and allowing more assets, more tools, more goods to be tracked and more knowledge to be available to decision makers in large industries. It is probably the right time to revisit the ROI math of your tracking system.
Whether you are an end-customer, a system integrator or a solution provider, contact us today. We have Excel spreadsheets to share, and partners we’d like to introduce you to.
 Mattessich, Richard. “THE OLDEST WRITINGS, AND INVENTORY TAGS OF EGYPT.” The Accounting Historians Journal, vol. 29, no. 1, 2002, pp. 195–208. JSTOR, THE OLDEST WRITINGS, AND INVENTORY TAGS OF EGYPT on JSTOR